Monday, March 08, 2010

Composting in your apartment, dorm room, kitchen... or just, you know, indoors.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 2 in a series of posts on indoor composting. Click here for part 2.

UPDATE: I've decided to offer free worms if my readers can pull together to make the experiment happen. Click here for the post, and check out the experiment tab for more details.

I've been eye-balling the NatureMill Composter for some time. Their website makes it out to be a dream. It aerates, it traps odors, it composts up to 120 pounds a month, and if you asked nicely, I bet it would even babysit your kids. Okay, that might be a bit much.

So, if it's so awesome, why haven't I gotten one? Um, how about the friggin' $400 price tag?! Okay... so the base model is only $300... but still.

Don't get me wrong, if I had money burning a hole in my pocket, I'd buy like 7 of the things and give them away as gifts (I always try to compost stuff at my mother's when I go to visit... but alas, it's all in vain).

So, I started thinking about how I could compost indoors on a budget. Like, legitimately compost--most "indoor composters" are just buckets that you put food scraps in until you take them outside. I live in an apartment. I don't have an outside, to speak of.

All fingers seem to be pointing at vermicomposting (that is, composting with worms).

Here's the problem and its theoretical solution:

If one were simply to keep a bunch of food scraps in a bowl they would mold and stink, and likely get thrown out before they ever got to looking anything like compost (I know this from experience... don't ask). So, we need a way to control odor and store compostable materials long-term without promoting mold or other unwanted growths.

Carbon filters are one way to control odor, and that's what the NatureMill bins use, but they don't, in and of themselves, do anything about mold, etc.

Worms really seem to be the solution. A properly set up and maintained worm bin should eliminate bad odors (although, it will likely give off an "earthy" smell) and will keep mold and other unwanted growths in check. Of course, this is only if the thoughts of having worms in your house don't bother you. And if you're really not bothered by it, you could even go eat worms.

So the next question ought to be: What setup is both well-suited to indoor use and is cheap to construct? Washington State University provided the answer.

First, you need 2 10 gallon tote boxes (link is for demonstration purposes only... notice that it's a 9-pack... that's just excessive.) That should set you back no more than 10 or 12 dollars.  On top of this you need a drill, or some other way to punch holes in your shiny new containers (1/16" ventilation holes, and 1/4" drainage holes). You also need worms and old newspapers/scrap paper.

The WSU site then instructs one to drill 20 evenly spaced 1/4" holes in the bottom of the bins as well as 1/16" holes, spaced 1-1/2 inches apart, around the top of the bin (their picture shows two rows). Shred your newspaper and moisten in. Wring out the newspaper and add enough to cover the bottom 3-4 inches of your bin. Now add a handful or two of dirt followed by your worms.

Your worms can digest half their weight in a day, so if you have a pound of worms, add 1/2 a pound of waste.

Just bury your scraps in the bedding each week and watch the worms have a feast. The other bin sits on top of the bin in use, and when the bottom bin is full, you just let the worms crawl into the upper bin through the wholes you drilled.

The full details about how the system works, what and how to feed your worms, how to collect worms from the wild, etc. just go the the WSU page. You can buy worms here, if you want to save the trouble of collecting them.

Additional thoughts? Theoretically the odor should be pleasant if it's noticeable at all. If it's more than you can bear, you could try adding carbon filters to the setup. I'm not sure how effective it would be, but my thought is that you could tape them to the lid of the bin, or something similar. Additionally, you'll need to catch drippings from your bin. The WSU setup just uses the extra lid from the second bin to catch drippings. Personally, I would add scrap paper or the like on top of the lid to soak up the liquid, and then I would put the paper back into the bin after its absorbed its share. Alternatively, I would create a funnel like system similar to a solar still

in order to collect the liquid and use it to water plants.

Hopefully this gives you some great ideas for composting in your own apartment or dorm room, or just for composting in general.

For more on the theory and practice of composting, and why it's important to put back what you take from the earth, check out my old (nearly ancient at this point) post on compost toilets.

Oh, and I wasn't kidding. You really can eat worms. (I told you I'd find a way to combine composting and entomophagy! Suck it, Trebek!)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is part 1 of 2 in a series of posts on indoor composting. Click here for part 2.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...