This weekend I started a vermiculture that will live in our kitchen and eat our garbage. Yay!
Vermiculture (or worm composting) is an easy way to deal with the majority of your organic food waste without the need of a backyard compost pile. When the culture is healthy and their environment is not too wet or too loaded with food scraps, there won't be any odor and the culture is contained by the bins so there shouldn't be any leaking or grossness. The very best resource for vermiculture construction and care is Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof. To get started, you can follow the plan here or devise a bin system that will work in your space and with your level of waste.
Here's what you will need (besides about 1/2 lb of red wrigglers): two plastic storage containers, around 30 or 40L, one lid to the container, screen door mesh, duct tape, a power drill with a 1/16th" drill bit, a utility knife for cutting the plastic container, old newspapers, a bucket.
First, use the utility knife to cut some vent holes in the bottom of container A. These holes will allow extra moisture to condense and run down into container B. The liquid is quaintly called compost tea, and can be used to fertilise your houseplants and garden. Place the holes in the lowest parts of the container, not the raised areas, and cut small squares of mesh large enough to cover each hole. Duct tape the mesh to the inside of the container, leaving no little spaces for worm escapees!
Using the drill, make lots and lots of small holes all around the top of container A, within 2 inches of the top of the bin.
Make lots of holes in the container lid as well. All these holes are for establishing adequate ventilation so the vermiculture doesn't get too wet. If you're like me and a little paranoid about that, you can also cut a hole and cover it with mesh in the bin lid. Only do this if the lid isn't going to receive direct sunlight where you intend to keep the bins.
So far all the modifications have been done to container A. Now grab container B and drill a few small holes in the sides and ends, about an inch from the bottom of the bin. These holes will allow more ventilation to come through container B and up through the bottom vents in container A. Now, sit container A into container B.
Sorry but I don't have pictures of the next step. The worms need bedding and luckily old newspaper makes a superb environment for them. Tear mounds and mounds of newspaper into strips then into small squares that are no bigger than 1"x1". Briefly soak the torn newspaper in water, squeeze out any excess water, then separate the squares as much as possible as you add them to container A. The moist paper should fluff a bit, leaving air and room for the worms to crawl about. The bedding should fill about 4" of the container all around so it really is a hell of a lot of tearing, soaking, and fluffing. Be prepared for ink stains up to your elbows, and I recommend watching something dumb like Dancing With the Stars while tearing, ripping, and tearing some more.
Finally, you are ready to add the worms! With a handful of dirt, since red wrigglers need a small amount of grit to digest their food, scatter the worms across the bedding. Voila!
To add your food scraps to the composter, open the bin, pull aside the layer of bedding in a corner or along a side, and place the scraps in the pocket you've created. Cover the scraps completely with bedding before closing the bin as this will help keep down fruit flies and slow the rotting process. Vermicultures like fruit and veg scraps, egg shells, stale bread, and even coffee grounds and tea leaves. They don't like oil, dairy products, meat scrap, or animal scat. The acidity of the culture is very important so people say to avoid giving them too much tomato or citrus, and to avoid 'spicy' food scraps like onion or garlic.
I'm really excited about this - my first foray into home composting. The compost tea will be very useful in the fire escape garden, and I won't have to feel so guilty about all the organic waste we produce in our 1.5 vegetarians household. I built the composter Thursday and have held off looking inside until today (Monday) to give the worms time to settle in. I've obviously got something to learn about the system because it appears that whatever scraps I put in on Thursday have sprouted and are making for the sky! I don't remember putting in any seeds but maybe a couple slipped in from the red pepper or something. Bah! Now I have to get in there and root them out. Well, live and learn... or maybe that should be worm and learn!