Having a compost bin on an apartment balcony is completely doable. You don’t need a big yard or a big budget to create compost. Follow these instructions and find a cheap, green way to provide fertilizer to your plants.
Cost of the Project
A 20-gallon Rubbermaid storage container from Target costs about $13. Worms can cost anywhere from $15 to $25.
Step 1: Buy and Prepare the Bin
Drill holes in the sides of the Rubbermaid storage bin, bottom and top (too few or too many holes can be a bad thing, so keep the total number around 20) for air circulation and drainage. Buy a bin that is opaque and not clear – the worms need for it to be dark inside.
Step 2: Find a Spot for the Compost Bin
Placement of the compost bin is important. Many apartment complexes don’t allow storage on balconies, so you may have to strategically hide the compost bin so it is not visible from the outside. Also keep the bin in a shady spot. You don’t want the worms to get too hot or have too much light.
Step 3: Shred Paper for Bedding
Shred newspaper into thin strips to make bedding for the worms you will add. Avoid glossy paper, such as the paper ads are often printed on. Newspaper and the paper inside of phone books are safe for composting worms because the inks used in this papers are strictly regulated by the government. Any other paper is questionable, so recycle any other paper in another way. Cardboard, such as toilet paper tubes, and egg cartons are also suitable for worm bedding. (Glossy boxes, such as cereal boxes are not appropriate.) Spray the paper so that it is moist, but not soaking wet. Always keep the bedding at this moist consistency.
Step 4: Add Food and Wait
Add a little bit of food and a small scoop of dirt and wait about two weeks. The food grows a good crop of microbes that the worms will eat.
Step 5: Add Worms
Eisenia fetid, or red worms, are the best worms for your vermicomposting bin. You can find boxes of them at your local garden center or order them online for about $20. They should breed in your bin, so you should only need to invest in worms once. Don’t put earthworms in your bin. They will die and your compost will fail.
Step 6: Feed the Bin
You will be "feeding the bin" (instead of feeding the worms) because although worms do eat some of the waste material put into the compost bin, they mostly feed on the microbes that break down the waste. Good food to put in the bin includes fruits and vegetables (feed citrus in moderation), coffee grounds, tea bags and crushed eggshells. For foods to add only in moderation include citrus, starches (bread, rice, etc.), spicy peppers, onions, oily food and sugary food. Never add meat or dairy, or any kind of human or pet waste. Don’t add too much food. Watch the bin and see what foods break down and what foods don’t. Foods like lettuce break down right away, while banana peels take a long time to decompose. When you feed the bin, add new shredded newspaper or spray with water, if needed.
Step 7: Harvest the Castings
In a few months, there may be some nutrient-rich worm castings that you can harvest from your bin and use as fertilizer for your garden plants. To harvest the castings, get another container and a plastic bag with holes cut into it. Place the bag over the top of the new container, and make sure it’s taught over the opening. Put the new container in the sun, and start putting the contents of your worm bin onto the top of the bag. The worms will burrow through the holes and into the new container because they don’t want to be out in the sun. This way you can separate the castings from the worms. When you are done harvesting, put the worms back into their compost bin.
Vermicompost Bin Concerns
For those of you new to composting, you may be concerned about insects and smells. You shouldn't notice any smell inside or outside on the balcony. Insects, on the other hand, can get out of control if you overfeed the bin. Fruit flies are quite the annoyance, but they are said to be beneficial to compost bins. There are strips you can buy and homemade remedies to get fruit flies if their numbers grow to plague proportions. It is not realistic to think that you won’t have any pesky insects, so before setting up a bin, think about how you will deal with fruit flies.