Composting keeps organic kitchen scraps out of the trash and the landfill, turning garbage into useful soil enrichment instead. You can compost most food waste, even indoors. Save scraps as you prepare meals by tossing them into a countertop collector. Hire some help and pay them in coffee grounds and old newspaper in a vermicomposting container. Make the equipment you need for no-smell, no-bugs, cheap, efficient composting with recyclables you have around the house, a trip to the hardware store and bait shop, and a modest investment of time.
Countertop Compost Collector
Wash a 1- or 2-gallon plastic container with a snap-on lid. Suitable containers are recycled coffee, cat-litter or ice cream containers or a covered bucket from the hardware store. Drill holes all over the lid of the container.
Cut a circle of charcoal filter, the kind used for cat litter boxes, to fit the underside of the container lid. The filter will keep bugs out and odors in while allowing oxygen to reach the kitchen scraps so they don’t begin to putrefy. Glue the filter to the container lid with a strong adhesive.
Place the container on the counter so it is convenient to toss scraps into as you prepare food. Remember, composting uses eggshells, coffee grounds and paper filters, veggie and fruit scraps, tea bags and even dryer lint from natural fiber clothes and towels.
Empty the container when it gets full into a larger compost bin or drum outdoors or on your terrace or balcony. Rinse the container with a splash of white vinegar and water each time you empty it.
Kitchen Counter Vermicomposter
Purchase red worms (Eisenia fetida) online, at a bait shop or garden store, or “borrow” some from a vermicomposting friend. Start with 1000 worms for your kitchen counter bin. (See References 1, page 74)
Measure your available countertop space. Calculate the size of the bin and the number of worms you need by the amount of garbage you produce. Figure on 1 square-foot of space for each 1/2 lb. of food waste produced per week. A 2- by 2-foot container, 8-inches deep, with 1000 worms, will take care of 3.5 lbs. of waste produced by two people (see References 1, pages 71 and 72). Buy a plastic storage container to fit. Get one no more than 12-inches deep (see References 2). Be sure the container has a snap-on lid. Drill holes in the container top, sides and bottom. Repurpose or buy a shallow plastic tray to fit under the container.
Set the plastic tray on the counter and place two bricks or wood blocks in the tray. Set the container on the blocks or bricks so air can circulate beneath it.
Layer moist bedding loosely in the container until it is about 1/2 full. Strips of non-colored newspaper soaked in water, and then wrung out, make excellent bedding. Mix in about 1 cup of garden soil. Add red worms. Keeping a bright light on in your kitchen for several days encourages them to stay deep in the bedding. (See References 1, pages 75 and 76)
Give the worms an hour or so to burrow into the bedding and get accustomed to their new habitat. Tuck kitchen scraps into the bedding, covering them completely. Add scraps in different areas of the bin each time you feed the worms. Decomposing scraps heat up the compost material and the worms may want to chow down in a cooler section of their habitat.
Feed worms daily or weekly. The material will visibly break down within weeks and will turn to rich dark worm castings within a few months. The timing varies, depending on conditions and scraps.
Empty any liquid that drips into the catchment tray onto houseplants -- it is a nutritious compost tea. Harvest the compost by pushing it to one side of your worm bin and filling the other side with fresh bedding and scraps. The worms will wiggle over to the new stuff. If you have enough space, you can prepare another bin for the worms to move into (see References 3). Spread your vermicompost on houseplants, outdoor plantings or donate it to a community garden.
- "Vermiculture Technology: Earthworms, Organic Wastes, and Environmental Management"; Clive A. Edwards, et al.; 2010
- Rodale Institute; Worm-bin Construction Made Simple: A Do-it-yourself Guide to Building a Home-scale Vermicompost System; Kelly Grube; August 2004
- If the bin seems to be drying out, spray the strips and material with water to keep it moist or you could lose your productive work force. The worms need moist, but not soggy, surroundings.
- Do not compost meat, bones, large pits, cheese and other dairy products, oils and grease or moldy bread. Those items will attract pests and rodents, decompose slowly, create unpleasant odors and spread mold throughout your compost bin.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .