Getting Started

When I first became interested in composting earlier in 2008, I did a bit of online research, then checked out a couple books from my local library. Unfortunately, I came away even more confused!

I was interested in composting kitchen scraps in order to reduce the amount I was adding to the waste stream. My previous apartments had kitchen sink garbage disposals, so that was where much of my food waste was going.

Most books and websites I initially found seemed geared toward traditional composting involving large volumes of yard waste, like leaves and grass clippings - this was not applicable to me.

I shelved the idea for a while, and in the meantime moved to my current studio. My new studio lacks a garbage disposal, so I had been trapping food scraps with a plastic sink strainer, then throwing them in the trash. I also no longer have a parking garage or other private, shady spot, so I knew I would have to keep my composting container indoors.

Last weekend, on Sunday, October 5, there was a festival in Long Beach called "
University by the Sea," which had a series of workshops including an introduction to composting. The composting seminar was led by Lisa Harris, the (very enthusiastic) City of LB recycling specialist. It was so helpful to get an overview in person and to be able to ask questions. Lisa helped me clearly understand what kind of composting would be appropriate for apartment life.

Traditional Composting

As I mentioned, this system is great for homeowners who have a lawn or garden and end up with bags of yard waste that normally get trucked away. A large container (which you can make yourself or purchase from a retailer or local recycle center) is used to isolate your yard waste outdoors, where it decomposes naturally once you provide a balanced mix of nitrogen materials ("green" e.g. grass clippings) and carbon materials ("brown" e.g dried leaves), as well as water and air. This method was what many resources I had read referred to - and was not the method for me.

Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)

With vermicomposting, a small, multi-tiered bin (which again can be homemade or purchased) houses your worm farm, either indoors or outdoors. Different from regular earthworms, composting worms (e.g. red wrigglers) feed near the surface of the soil and create castings (i.e. worm poop) that are highly beneficial for your garden.

Since worm bins tend to be relatively compact, vermicomposting can easily be done indoors in a modest apartment. The worms live in a nest that can be made of anything from coconut fiber to newspaper shreddings (kept at the moisture level of a wrung-out sponge). When you add food scraps to the top of the bin, the worms feast on the microorganisms that decompose the organic material, and produce rich, fertile castings that fall to the lower levels of the worm bin. After speaking with Lisa, I became very excited about the idea of implementing vermicomposting in my apartment.

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