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  • Naomi Stephens | Permaculture Designer

Worm Composting Guide for a Small Apartment

Updated: Mar 17

Consider worm composting to create rich compost in your compact urban setting. The benefits of worm castings are abundant, enhancing the nutrient density and introducing beneficial microbes to your compost.


Currently, I have a worm composting bin on my balcony. In the past, I kept a small worm box in my room, so I know it can be done successfully both ways.




What is Worm Composting?


Worm composting is also known as vermicompost, and for this kind of compost, you need a specialized type of earthworm, not just any earthworm found in your garden. They are scientifically called Eisenia fetida and are commonly known as red wigglers.


This kind of earthworm will eat organic dead material, and it will poop out highly nutritional soil filled with beneficial bacteria and added nutrition from the worm itself (calcium carbonate). It's as close as you can get to rich natural soil.



What you'll need


Worm bin: I bought a tiered worm bin off Amazon, which came with the worms included. It works perfectly. As you fill the bottom tray up, you add another on top, and the worms migrate from the bottom tiers when no more food is available. Click here for the one I bought from Amazon.


Bedding: If you follow this blog, you'll know I buy hay for making mushrooms and I use it for worm bedding also. Hay mimics the natural environment the best because it's dried vegetation that would easily be available on a forest floor.


Before that, I used cut-up newspaper and cardboard. The worms eat the newspaper when there's no other food available, and I noticed they love to hang out in the cardboard, eating that too.


Soil: Regular coconut coir is brilliant as it's cheap and easy to get on Amazon. The worms will act like a conveyor belt eating through this and pooping it out. The end product of this is worm castings, which are almost black and rich compared to the brown coconut coir you start with.


Food: Worms will happily eat your kitchen or garden waste and turn it into worm castings. However, you should be careful to feed your worms things that they can tolerate, anything except fish, meat, citrus, acidic, and highly processed food.


Worm farm tips


  • Don't overfeed your worm farm; otherwise, the bin will smell foul. Worm compost doesn't smell, so the scent is like rotting food when something's wrong. If this happens, cover the rotting food with more soil or remove it.

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  • Don't let food spoil in your kitchen; otherwise, it will become too acidic. I once left a mango out. I knew it had started to go wrong, but I didn't realize how bad it was until I picked it up and turned it around, and it smelled like fermented alcohol. I added it to the worm bin, thinking the worms would love it. Instead, they avoided it like the plague. The mango attracted white mites I hadn't seen in the bin before. I learned that white mites love acidic conditions. Long story short, the alcohol was a sign that bacteria had taken over, and the smell of alcohol was their by-product, making it too far gone for the worms to eat.


  • If you underfeed your worms, they will die and try to escape. If you see worms crawling at the sides of the bin and poking their noses at the exit points, they might be trying to escape and look for food. If this happens, add food or check for uneaten food, per my point above about overly rotten food. Don't worry because even if your worms die, their bodies turn into compost very quickly, and their eggs will lay dormant until you begin feeding your worm bin again.


  • Don't worry if you have other guests in your worm bin, like mites or springtails. At first, I was mortified by seeing tiny spider mites in my bin. I was terrified they would crawl all over my apartment, but this never happened. The mites and springtails are supposed to be there. They aren't harmful to your worms and help decompose the waste. When confronted with the rawness of nature, I needed to shift my focus away from the concept of our meticulously groomed, antiseptic society. The best thing is that they never leave the bin; that's where the food is. I've never spotted mites or springtails outside the bin.


  • Keep the light on overnight: Your worms will probably try and escape when you first get them because they're trying to get used to their environment. Keep the light on overnight. They shy away from the light, which will prevent them from leaving. The longer you keep them, the easier it gets. After two weeks, I almost tried to return my bin, but I'm glad my husband persuaded me to keep it going. Now, I check on them once a week if that is the case. They never try to escape, and I've constantly harvested excellent fertilizer from them.





  • They don't need to be watered. I haven't watered my bin in months, and the conditions are moist and perfect. I found that by keeping the lid on constantly, the water condenses on the lid and drips back into the worm bin. Initially, I would add water, which would attract mites to the worm bin. I stopped seeing mites about a month after I stopped watering the bin.


Can I leave the worm bin for an extended vacation?


I have been able to leave my worms in my apartment with a bunch of food for three months at a time, returning to find worms alive and with no problems at all. I add a bunch of wet cardboard, as much as the bin can take, and everything in my fridge.


After three months, I've returned to find a few sheets of cardboard left and worms wriggling away. What a relief!



Worm castings are considered the gold standard for growing plants. See here: Benefits of Black Gold in Your Garden (Worm Castings)



 

I hope this helps you with your worm bin. Hit the heart button if you like this article. Stay tuned for more updates.




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