My apartment here in State College is quite small, but it’s still the first place I’ve lived where I can make it (along with Benjamin, of course) my (our) own. Long hours at campus mean I want to make the most of my time at home enjoying the space and using it to explore any outside interests I try to maintain throughout graduate school. We use this space to develop some of our shared interests, and this is reflected in how we attempt to arrange the living area in a way that extends our tiny, tiny nook kitchen out into the rest of the room. We try and cook for ourselves as often as possible and we relish our weekly CSA deliveries of local produce, dairy, eggs, and bread. However, this produces a LOT of food scraps that we don’t want to end up in a landfill somewhere. I really wanted to have a compost bin somewhere outside, but we don’t have a lot of space available to use around our apartment building and I wasn’t sure how well it’d be received. An indoor possibility was on my radar for a while, but, as I’ll discuss, I had some reservations. Having a bin full of worms in one’s apartment seems like something that should be filed under “You know you live with/might be an ecologist when….”, but in my research before I found that they are way more popular than I anticipated!
Before I took the leap into having bins of food and worms sitting around my apartment, I tried to find other options. I still love the idea of using food scraps to make homemade stock, but I have more than enough scraps to do so. While State College is pretty good in the recycling/compost bin arena, apartments around here don’t get compost bins. Based on the bins around town that I have snuck compost into, I can understand why. Almost all of them are full of compost…in plastic bags! Since I can’t go door to door and explain to people why they are morons for doing so, I decided to take matters into my own hands, at least for my own compost. Spoiler alert, having a worm compost bin in my kitchen is easy, convenient, and helps cut down on food waste. Also, keeping food scraps out of my garbage keeps my bin from starting to smell. I have a small bin, but it fills slowly since we try to not use too much packaging waste (thanks, CSA!) and it’s nice to not have to worry about it getting funky. Ultimately, I have grown to love having my little wormie friends around as my own little slice of science in my home.
This isn’t a how-to blog post. I used a lot of different amazing blog posts I found online to guide my own process for making the bins. I was not able to find a drill to add drain holes to my worm bins, but I haven’t had too many issues with overly wet conditions if I add in paper and mix the contents often. (Speaking of which, gloves are a must!) Some of my favorite tips include keeping scraps in the fridge or freezer, don’t be afraid to just leave the bins alone, and to make sure you get the right kind of worms.
This is not to say that I haven’t run into any issues along the way. Both of my bins have fruit flies that I can’t seem to get rid of. The issue has not escalated to anything more than annoyance and I’m sure that our carnivorous plants love the extra treats. I make sure to take the bin
outside if I’m ever going to take the bin lid off completely. (Fly my pretties, fly, fly!!) Also, I expanded my one bin to two recently. I think the first one was getting a little overcrowded, as exemplified by a couple escape attempts conducted by the worms. Real Talk, you might have to deal with some dried up worms on the ground by your bin. It’s sad, but true. Setting up bin #2 gave me a great opportunity to remix the contents and add lots of saved up paper scraps to the mix. While it is nice that I am able to feed a portion of my compost to the worms, I’ve found that I still need to take compost to campus every so often. I keep a bucket in my freezer for scraps to go into as we cook and thaw portions out as needed for the worms, but often it fills up faster than I can transfer to the worms. I don’t want to overfeed the little colony, as this could result in smelly bins.
All in all, I am so glad that these bins are part of our cozy little apartment life now. We’ve been able to use the soil in our growing Apartment Garden. We’ve also started to cycle old soil through the compost bins to incorporate nutrients back into the dirt. It almost makes me want to learn more about soil geochemistry, but that’s why I have my beloved Rachel, right? I’d love to hear from everyone about their own composting, vermiculture or otherwise! Are you thinking about starting a bin? Let us know! Send pictures! Let me name your worms!!