Beginners Guide to Worm Composting at Home 

I never would’ve thought that I’d be a composter.  That I’d get excited about going onto my patio to check how my worm colony was getting on. That I’d have friends texting me like their drug dealer, asking if I could hook them up with compost. 

In this post, I’ll detail how I compost food scraps with worms using the Worm Factory 360.

Why is composting a good thing?

First of all, composting is good for the planet.  Food scraps don’t break down when they’re sent to a landfill.  In the past, I assumed that food sent to landfills would break down, and composting was just a good thing to do for the soil.  Landfill sites are massive storage holes with no oxygen. When oxygen is present, (like in a compost system) food breaks down aerobically and emits carbon dioxide. When there’s no oxygen, (like in a landfill) items try to break down anaerobically and methane is emitted.  Methane traps between 30-100 times more heat than carbon dioxide.

Second, it produces rich fertilizer that gives plants a boost of nutrients to grow stronger and healthier. It makes fruit and veg taste better. Plus, it’s damned satisfying to turn our food waste into soil.

Third, we feed excess worms to our tortoise, Cornelius – she goes crazy for them. She loves composting more than me. 

How does it work?

At its simplest, you put in organic kitchen waste (compost), worms eat it and poop out fertilizer. 

Compost is made up of a combination of “browns” and “greens.” Your “browns” are carbon-based items e.g paper, cardboard, newspaper, and dry leaves. Your “greens” are nitrogen-based and are food scraps like stale bread, vegetable peelings, and coffee grounds.  The key to composting is making sure the carbon and nitrogen are balanced.  When I first started composting, I thought that “balanced” meant a 50/50 mix of “browns” and “greens.”  After a while, my compost went from smelling of nothing to smelling like poop.  A balanced compost requires a  2:1 brown:green ratio

Next, come the worms. The most common worm used is the red wriggler.  If you buy these or get some from a friend, they usually come with some half processed compost.  Once you have your worms, you can add your browns and greens, some water, give everything a mix/aeration, and let the worms get to work.  

I turn my compost with a trowel twice a week.  After a few months, you’ll have nutrient-rich soil you can add to plants.

How to get started

The first thing to do is to select the best set-up for you.

  1. If you have space, you could just dig a hole and create a free-standing pile of compost. If you take this route, you’ll need to create a sort of lasagna of your browns and greens. These typically do not have worms and instead, the compost breaks down under high temperatures, which is why it’s also called hot composting. 
  1. DIY bin – It’s really easy to turn an open-top wooden or plastic bin into a compost bin.  This option serves as a low maintenance container for keeping your compost pile out of sight and the open top makes it easy access to turn your compost.  There are a bunch of videos on YouTube that show where to drill drainage holes and other tips.

  1. Tumbling barrel composter – These bins are plastic barrels that rotate easily with a hand-crank.  These types of bins are usually smaller than open-air versions but the rotation makes it easy to aerate small batches of waste. 

  1. Multi-tiered composter – This type of composter includes a series of trays that stack on top of each other.  As the waste decomposes and you fill up a tray, the waste should fall into the lower bins until it reaches the base of the bin as finished compost. I wouldn’t say a lot of falling occurs with my bin, but I like how I can fill one tray and add another on top.  This allows the waste in the lower trays to break down whilst building up additional trays waste on top.  As one tray empties, I can add it to the top of the bin stack.  

I opted for the multi-tiered composter given space constraints and that I could buy a kit to get me started. I got the Worm Factory 360, which has been excellent and straight-forward.  It’s sturdy enough to live outside and small enough to fit in an apartment balcony area.  A few people have asked me if the worms escape but worms prefer the dark, damp space of the compost bin and so as long as they have enough food to eat, they’re not going to try and escape. And if they do, my tortoise will hunt them down. 

There are tonnes of YouTube videos online showing you how to initially set up a compost bin.  If you use a  Worm Factory 360 or similar, you’ll probably receive some worm bedding and a few other things to get you started. 

Dos and Dont’s (some of which I learned the hard way)

  1. Do turn your compost at least once a week.
  2. Do keep a paper bag or some sort of cover on the top layer of your compost tray to keep the moisture in.
  3. Don’t add meat, dairy, or grease. They tend to smell quite rancid before they break down and can attract pests.
  4. Don’t compost onions and citrus. Worms are not fans of citrus, or even slightly acidic vegetables and so I also only add small amounts of leftover tomato.

Additional tips and benefits

  1. You’ll probably need a container to keep on your kitchen counter to collect your veggie scraps in.  There is a range of containers on garden sites and even stores like West Elm and Wayfair.  The container I use is a large biscuit container from a thrift store.
  2. The smaller the chunks of food, the quicker the worms will break it down.
  3. Keep an eye on the moisture of your worm bin. You’ll know it’s too wet as it will start to smell.  You need a certain amount of water as it helps speed up the degradation process and also prevents your worms from drying out and dying.
  4. Lastly, a compost bin doubles up as a shredder for important documents you may not want to put in the recycling.

If you have any compost tips you think I should include in this post, please let me know!

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