Is vermicomposting practical for a city dweller in a condo?
I say yes.
Ever since planting my first food garden on my tiny balcony last year, I've been obsessed, and along with that obsession has come a fascination with soil. Because soil is not some dead matter, but a fascinating and important ecosystem compromised of billions of microorganisms that are constantly working.
Soil you see, is hungry.
I realized one of the least expensive and most convenient ways for me to obtain a rich fertilizer might just be by composting myself.
However, I didn't relish the notion of rotting food sitting inside some damp plastic bin under my sink. Congealed drippings of liquid waste spattering on the outside.
My research eventually led me to a rather surprising conclusion: vermicomposting. That is, composting with worms, red wrigglers to be exact.
If the notion of keeping worms inside your condo horrifies you, I ask that you try and keep an open mind as to just how odourless, and easy it really is. I have a bloodhound sense of smell and melodramatic prissy aversion to rotting food matter -- particularly in liquid form -- ever touching me, and could never consider this in a tiny condo living space if it wasn't clean.
And as an added bonus, if you fish, you'll have a free and steady supply of bait.
(IMPORTANT: Do NOT dump worms on land, they are invasive and can cause serious disruptions to the native flora.)
Even if you don't grow your own food, the advantages of vermicomposting go beyond how they can benefit you personally.
- You likely have friends, coworkers, and family members that do garden.
- Your city likely has community gardening initiatives that are strapped for cash and would welcome free supplies like rich compost.
- You are diverting your organic kitchen waste away from our landfills where it sits and rots contributing to climate change.
Did you know that 40% of the average garbage bag in Toronto is loaded with organics? Much of that waste could be converted to compost. These organic wastes in landfills break down anaerobically (without oxygen) to produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas considerable more harmful than CO2.
When you choose to compost at home with worms and your kitchen scraps, the amount of methane produced is ZERO.
And you have plenty of options:
- You can buy a ready-made vermicomposting system. There are quite a few models available online.
- Your local classifieds like and Kijiji/Craigslist, as well as numerous Facebook groups, have plenty of people selling all sorts of vemicomposting items from complete kits to just the worms.
- You can build it yourself.
I went with the third option and built my own. All it required was two stackable plastic bins with lids from the Dollar Store, some clothes pins, and a drill.
That is it. 5 minutes of my time.
I wasn't interested in spending unnecessary cash for a fancy worm condo when I could make an attractive, neat version myself for less than $10. It's easy, it's cheap, and you likely have the tools on hand. Just get your red wrigglers, and you're good to go.
- Citrus fruits and peels
- Spicy food
- Onions and garlic
- Waste from cat litter
- Shiny paper
- Fats & oils
- Bread and processed grain food products
- Fruit & vegetable scraps (minus the above)
- Leftover pulp in juicer
- Coffee grinds
- Tea bags & leaves (staple removed)
- Egg shells (washed and crushed down)
- Dinner leftovers
- Lawn clippings & weeds
- Paper towels & tissues
- Uncoated paper and cardboard/egg containers, shredded down
The smaller you break down what you put into the compost, the faster and more efficient the worms are at breaking it down.
It's better to err on the side of caution with feeding. Worms don't like gross, slimy, rotting food anymore than you do. I keep a Ziploc bag in the freezer full of compostable food scraps and feed the worms accordingly. They can eat up to their entire weight in one day.
They will also breed at a comfortable pace inside the container you provide. Otherwise this is honestly a very simple project. Here's a detailed breakdown of building your own vermicomposting system.
- 2 plastic, stackable containers with lids.
- 4 large clothes pins.
- A drill.
- Some shredded cardboard and newspaper.
- Red wriggler worms in some soil.
Dark opaque containers are preferred as worms are nocturnal and very sensitive to light, but I didn't find any suitable for my purpose so I went with clear ones instead. Since I'll be keeping the container in a dark closet 99% of the time, it doesn't matter.
If you plan on leaving your container outside on a balcony, find opaque plastic.
- Drill multiple evenly spaced holes in both the lid and bottom of only ONE of your containers.
- Take the drilled container and stack it inside the other plastic container.
- Wedge one clothes pin in the centre of each side in order to allow more space at the bottom of the second (bottom) container. Your worms will be dropping castings and travelling between containers, they'll need a larger clearance, and stackable containers are generally designed to minimize clearance for more effective storage -- not useful here.
- Add a layer of shredded newspaper and cardboard into the top container (the one with the holes) followed by some shredded paper.
- Spray the newspaper/cardboard bedding with water or wet it first under a tap, wringing out the excess moisture.
- The bedding should be damp, but not wet. Like a wrung-out dish towel.
- Add the worms and the soil.
- Pile some easy compostable food like coffee grinds and ground up, washed eggshells into two corners.
- That's it.
Let the worms relax and acclimatize for a week or two, checking on them and the food pile daily. They may need some days to start getting to work, that is normal. If after two weeks you notice they haven't touched the food, check to see if the worms are actually still alive. What's more likely is that they will have begun their process and you can start slowly adding more and more scraps to the bin.
You can stack multiple bins in the way I described and watch your worm colony grow and compost even more food. Or keep it small and simple. Right now, I'm keeping it small and simple. Make sure you keep the worm environment damp and comfortable. Not too wet, not dry.
I'll be posting a detailed video and pictures soon on YouTube and Instagram.
And that's really it. If you have any questions or comments, please reach out and if you are a city condo dweller like that is also vermicomposting, I'd love to hear from you. If you want more details or to check in on my little worm colony, my Instagram Stories is the best place for regular updates.