Build your own apartment composting unit, tips and tricks

Kitchen waste converted to compost in an appartment composter

You live the urban life in an apartment but would nonetheless love to make your own compost?

Even though it seems impossible at first glance, a technique called vermicomposting will enable you to make your own real compost.

A little advice on how to build your own apartment composter.

What is vermicompost?

Vermicompost (from vermicomposting) is a method that lets you produce your own compost indoors without any smell.

Vermicomposting concept

  • In a container that is populated with compost worms (called Eisenia foetidia), you throw all your organic matter waste.
  • These little critters will eat it up and the compost comes from their output – their poo.
  • Although some people succeed in making their compost from a drilled-in trash bin placed on the balcony, vermicomposting produces results much more quickly.
  • Moreover, you have nothing to do yourself, since your worms are working for you!

How to make an apartment composter

Mainstream vermicomposting units can run quite expensive. It is perfectly possible to make your own yourself instead.

For that you just need the following equipment

  • 5 identical containers, that stack on top of each other if possible,
  • wire mesh,
  • a blade or retractable knife,
  • manure or compost worms,
  • and a bit of green plant matter collected from a nearby field or park.

Simple plastic bins are great to start, or you can also ask fishmongers or supermarkets for Styrofoam boxes that are used to package food for instance.

Depending on the size of your household you may need to adjust the size. For example, a 2-person household needs bins that are 20 inches (50 cm) wide and 16 inches (40 cm) across. If 4 persons live together you’ll need roughly double the area, which translates to about 30 x 20 inches (70 by 60 cm).

In all cases, the bins should be at least 8 inches (20 cm) deep. And now for the handywork!

This is how your apartment composter should be set up

  • Ground floor (at the very bottom): a bin that will recover liquid compost juice. Nothing to do here.
  • 1st floor: a bin with tiny holes that are too small for worms to pass through. This will catch the ready-to-use compost.
  • 2nd floor: a bin with 4-inch (10 cm) holes covered with a wire mesh screen.
  • 3rd floor: same as 2nd floor
  • 4th floor: a bin with the bottom removed that will serve to increase the capacity of your tower (except if the 4th bin is already much deeper than the other ones).

Additionally, remember to close the top bin with a lid with a couple small holes drilled into it, because worms prefer working in the dark. If you found Styrofoam bins for this, you can also paint your apartment composter with dark paint to block out the light.

Once your apartment composter is ready:

  • add a few leaves and twigs, as well as wet newspaper and soil.
  • This is what is called the bedding.
  • After that, add worms: 1 lbs for a 2-person apartment composter, and around 3 lbs for a 4-person apartment composter. At this point, don’t yet add your waste, since your worms must first settle in for a few weeks.

Two weeks later, you can add your fruit peels and vegetable waste, your teabags and coffee grounds, eggshells, etc.

Remember not to add any bits of onions or garlic, fatty products, nor any meat and fish parts.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Michael Noack and Sally Noack / Vermicompost by Oregon State University under © CC BY-SA 2.0