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How to Compost at Home: Essential Answer

By Caddie Bergren, '13

I live in a place without curbside compost pick-up. What’s the easiest way to compost at home?

Asked by Cynthia Fielding-Singh
Tucson, Ariz.

The Bay Area is well ahead of the curve when it comes to curbside composting. San Francisco’s 18-year-old program has collected more than 1 million tons of yard and kitchen waste to date, and the city became the first in the nation to mandate composting in 2009. Meanwhile, most major U.S. cities still don’t have curbside recycling, let alone composting. If you live somewhere that does not yet have curbside pickup, don’t worry. There’s an easy composting option to help reduce your household waste.

When most people think composting, they picture the classic backyard pile. But if you don’t have the outdoor space or simply don’t want to deal with the smell or the upkeep, then vermicomposting may be for you. From the Latin vermis, meaning worm, vermicomposting employs certain worm species to transform organic waste into high-quality fertilizer. A worm farm is efficient, odorless and can fit discreetly in a pantry or under a kitchen sink. All you need is a bin and a pound or two of red worms.

Many models of vermicompost bins are available on the market, ranging in price from about $60 to $100. (If your local garden supply store doesn’t stock them, complete kits—including the worms—can be purchased online.) These bins typically consist of 3 or 4 stacked plastic trays, a lid and a small spout on the bottom to collect the compost “tea.” This nutrient-rich liquid can be used to water houseplants; to learn more read on to the Nitty Gritty.

Or, if you have a DIY bent, you can make your own worm bin using plastic buckets, nursery plant trays or storage containers. Several easy to follow step-by-step tutorials can be found on the web: for example, here and here.

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