3 Lessons I Learned Since Starting a Home Compost Bin Using Worms

It has been almost three full months since NYC suspended curbside composting and many New Yorkers are still hopeful, setting their brown bins out on the curb for the DSNY to collect their food scraps during waste collection rounds in the neighborhood.

Some people sought alternative methods for composting during the pandemic, whether it was at home (see: The Compost by My Couch) or seeking some residential food scrap pick-up services. I chose to try my hand at vermicomposting, or using red wriggler worms to help eat my plant-based food scraps, and learned some good lessons in the two months since I’ve had my critters.

Lesson 1: Worms are curious and like to wander, so secure your bin!

When I first set up my bin, I was constantly checking up on them to make sure they were doing okay (because I was somehow expecting them to send me some signal). I noticed they were climbing all over the bin and onto the lid and freaked out thinking I set my bin up incorrectly.

I was able to get some advice from expert composter and environmental activist Christine Datz-Romero, Founder and Executive Director of LES Ecology Center (great nonprofit in the Lower East Side, people!) who assured me that as long as my bin wasn’t too wet or too try, my worms were just being curious and exploring their new home!

With the aeration holes on my bin, I put mesh fabric over it so they can’t escape, and have since learned that when DIY-ing a worm bin, the bin should be opaque if possible so imitate the normal living conditions. To make this bin a little homier, I put some large pieces of kraft paper to shield it from light.

Lesson 2: 100 composting worms were not enough to process all the food scraps produced in my home.

If I were living at my apartment by myself, I think 100 worms would have been a good number to start with since I would be producing one person’s worth of food scraps. With three people, 100. Was. Not. Enough! I’ve heard from other worm bin owners that their worms eat scraps quickly, but mine like to take their sweet time and I am always afraid of overwhelming the bin and putting too much in before they are ready.

Additionally, my household does consume a lot of citrusy, acidic foods, and some animal meat products, which can not be put in the worm bin, so unfortunately those scraps end up going in the trash without the curbside collection program.

Lesson 3: Worms will not be the only living organisms in your bin.

Within the first few weeks of starting my worm bin, I started to notice these tiiiiny white dots sitting on the food scraps left in the bin. I would see them move around and I looked up what they could be, and results suggest that I have white mites, which are decomposers and can help break down organic waste in the bin.

I definitely was NOT expecting these critters and honestly am still skeeved out by the sight of them, but they seem to be getting along well with my worms and not taking over the bin and eating all of the food scraps (one of the things I was warned about).

Final thoughts on my worm bin…

It has been two months since starting my worm bin and they are doing well, and the population is growing where I can see baby red wrigglers when I look hard enough climbing on the inside walls of the bin. My household’s food consumption rate hasn’t changed, so we are still producing relatively the same amount of food scraps as we did when we first started the worm bin. They are still incredibly slow at eating even with growing numbers where I can put a 32oz tupperware container’s worth of food scraps in once every two weeks (Maybe that’s a normal rate? Someone confirm please haha)

This is a small win since I’m able to divert some portion of food scraps from the trash, but it definitely is not making a significant dent, and I’m missing my brown bin!

So what’s next? We’ve gotta get the CORE Act passed, which would require three food scrap drop-off sites in each district in the city! Follow Save Our Compost for updates!