How to Compost and Keep Your Plants Happy When You Live in an Apartment
If you live in an apartment, you probably have plants. And if you don’t, you should think about getting some, because indoor plants are good for your health.
They produce oxygen, which helps you sleep well. They absorb CO2 and other pollutants. They release phytoncides, which boost your white blood cells and neutralize microorganisms in the air. Plus having plants around improves your mood—a bit like a pet and a lot less trouble.
But you have to play your part and keep your plants healthy. Water them, give them sunlight and feed them compost.
OK, we hear you. How do you compost if you live in an apartment? Actually, it’s easier than you might think to turn your food scraps into plant superfood. Here’s what you’ll need to make compost with the perfect balance of plant nutrients.
A wood box is your best choice. It looks good and it’s easy to make yourself. Choose a shallow, wide shape—8 to 12 inches deep—not tall and narrow. Your container should have holes in the lid for ventilation and in the sides for drainage. The lower side holes should be about 3 inches from the bottom. Then, if you have to drain your container, you just tip it and the “tea” will run out of the holes.
If you don’t go the DIY route, you can easily buy an indoor composting container online. They range in price from under $25 up to $250 or more.
Cut the paper into strips. Newspaper is a good choice. Also good is shredded brown cardboard. Soak it in water and squeeze out the extra so the strips are moist but not dripping. Line the bottom of your container with the paper—about one-third of the way to the top. Then add a thin layer of soil, sand, ground egg shells or sawdust.
Some papers you should not use, like bleached white office paper or any paper printed with colored ink. And some papers you can’t use, like coffee cups from Starbucks, thanks to Starbucks’ refusal to develop a cup not lined with polyethylene plastic. (This means 4 billion Starbucks cups go into landfills every year. CREDO Mobile funds the Stand.earth campaign to pressure Starbucks to come up with a recyclable cup.)
Yes, worms. They’re your best friends for indoor composting. After all, composting is what they’ve been doing for millions of years. Use red wigglers (Eisenia fetida). They’re surface-dwellers and like to live in the top 6 inches of soil—which is why your container should be shallow rather than deep. You can order worms online and get them in the mail.
How many do you need? You should allow 1 square foot of space for 1 pound of worms (which is around 2 cups). Worms eat half their body weight in 24 hours, so if you have, say, 1 cup of worms, you can feed them 1/2 cup of food scraps a day. But don’t worry too much—they’ll self-regulate their population fairly quickly (unlike some other species we could mention).
When placing your worms in the container, dig down a short way into the paper layer to make them feel at home. Put your container in a cool place without a lot of sun, maybe under the sink. If you put it out on a balcony or fire escape, keep in mind that worms are sensitive to extremes of temperature. They prefer the 55-to-77-degree range. Wait a few days to let them settle in before you feed them.
Now comes the fun part. You can feed your herd all sorts of different scraps—fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds. Avoid meats, fish, oils, dairy products, processed foods, chili pepers and citrus fruits, which are too acidic.
It helps to chop scraps into smaller pieces. And it’s best to feed your worms every few days in small amounts. Compost itself doesn’t actually smell but if you feed worms more than they can handle, you’ll end up with a pungent odor, which is the smell of rotting food that hasn’t been eaten yet. Feed slowly and you won’t have an odor and likely no fruit flies either.
The compost your worms produce is an earthy hummus. Keep adding scraps until you have more hummus than scraps, then let your bin sit until the remaining scraps have been eaten. Then scoop out your compost (not your worms) and give it to your plants. Keep some compost aside, mix it with new bedding (moist paper) and start the cycle over.
It takes about 12 weeks for worms to produce a bin’s worth of compost, give or take some time depending on the size of your bin.
Let us know how it goes. Or, if you’re an experienced composter already, send us your tips.