Compost through the winter with worms in your house!

It’s no secret that I hate to see things go to waste. I have been known to dig recyclable items out of the trash and attempt to Freecycle or otherwise give away some of the craziest stuff before I will consider tossing it in the trash. It makes me anxious when my 3-year-old leaves the water running or stands with the refrigerator door open too long. And I really have a hard time throwing away table scraps and fruit and vegetable peels, especially considering my children eat fruit like there’s no tomorrow. All of that fruit adds up to a whole lot of orange peels, apple cores and watermelon rinds. Honestly, that’s the biggest reason I started composting. I hated seeing how much food waste was going into the garbage and knowing it only ended up in the landfill. Sure, the end result of making your own fertile soil which is great for gardening is an added bonus, but mostly I compost to reduce my family’s garbage output.

I didn’t start out trying to do vermicomposting or composting with worms. We got a composting bin, set it up in a relatively sunny spot in our mostly shady backyard, and got to work. Along the way, I threw in several shovels-full of dirt, hoping it would speed up the composting process. Apparently I threw in some worms too, which reproduced like rabbits. It didn’t take long for my regular compost bin to become a worm composting bin. I think it’s a little freaky, but my kids get a big kick out of all of the worms in there and have been known to fish some out just for fun. :P

However due to the cold in Colorado this winter, my compost bin hasn’t been working very well. In fact when I dig into the pile I find lots of frozen (dead?!) worms. I’m sorry wormies. And my food waste is not being broken down like it is in the summer. As a result, some of our food waste has gone down the garbage disposal (which isn’t a good option because it uses a lot of water and energy to process at the water treatment plants) and I’ve also thrown some into the *gasp* garbage. It breaks my little green heart.

My friend Julie who also lives in Colorado has run into the same frozen composting dilemma this winter and decided to start worm composting in her basement. The idea of having a bin full of worms in your house might skeeve some people out, but the worms are contained and it’s a very practical way to keep your food waste out of the landfills. While I haven’t set up my own system yet, I have started learning more about it. Not only is it a great option for people who live in colder climates, but it’s great for apartment-dwellers or others who don’t have a yard to put a traditional compost bin.


Photo credit: Bramble Hill

Why compost?
Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.

What is vermicomposting?
In the simplest terms, “vermicomposting is a system for turning food waste into potting soil with the help of worms.”

What do I need to get started?
According to Worm Woman, you will need:

  • An aerated container
  • Bedding such as shredded newspaper
  • Moisture and proper temperature
  • Small amount of soil
  • Redworms (Eisenia fetida)

Learn more about vermicomposting:

If not for the fact that we are trying to get our house ready to go on the market and I need another project like I need a hole in my head, I would totally set up a worm composting bin in my house right now. But the worm bin project (along with the getting chickens project and what else is there?) will have to wait until we have sold our house and have moved into our new abode.

Cross-posed on BlogHer

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31 thoughts on “Compost through the winter with worms in your house!

  1. We’ve been worm composting in our kitchen this winter because it has been a whole lot colder than normal for Georgia. It’s surprisingly easy to do once you get the hang of it!

  2. We have a worm bin in the basement – it’s great but absorbs much less household waste than our outdoor bin…I think I’d need 5-6 bins to really handle all our veggie/fruit scraps.

  3. Great post! I am wondering if you found any good websites for trouble-shooting. We had a indoor worm bin a couple years ago and ran into 2 problems. 1) Fruit flies!!! Tons of them. 2) It just did not break down our waste quick enough (which is I think what caused the fruit flies).

    I would love to get this going again, but I need some serious tips such as to not have an other fruit fly infestation!!

  4. Great post Amy! We killed our worms last year…hey, it was our first attempt. I think we over fed them and as Kathleen said we had a little bit of a fruit fly infestation also. We’re hoping to get more worms over the weekend or next wk; in fact. Going to start over and try again. Same thing with the tumbler… we haven’t quite mastered that either. Although, our leaf pile has been the most successful go figure! Just pile and let sit. Seriously! LOL! Good luck with the house plans. :)

  5. ew ew eewwww! no thanks. i’m not into worms at all.

    however, in san francisco they pick up composted stuff just like they pick up garbage every week. i think private companies do the trash pick-up here (i rent so don’t have to deal with that) and i’m guessing compost pick-up might cost more or something?

    also, i’m pretty sure that here in san francisco, composting will be required in the near future.

    composting is a good idea. worms in my apartment – not so much! :-)

  6. I wouldn’t worry about continuing to add compost to your outdoor pile during the winter. Here in frozen Nova Scotia, we just keep piling it on, knowing that as soon as the weather warms it’ll break down really quickly. And most of your worms (the smart ones) will burrow in so deep they’ll be fine. (Not that I wouldn’t like to try vermicomposting just for the fun of it. Unfortunately, I can’t find a local source for worms.)

  7. I should clarify that I do keep adding to the outside compost bin as long as there is room to do so. But when it all is frozen and isn’t breaking down, it gets piled to the top and I can’t add any more.

    Kathleen – RedWormComposting.com might have some tips for trouble shooting. That guy really seems to know his worms. ;)

  8. I think my lazy method works well because the winters are so much milder here. The worms can migrate to the center of the compost pile to stay warm on cold nights. I’m a little worried about how they’ll do in the middle of the hot summer. Hopefully the moisture in the compost pile will keep it cool enough for them so I don’t have cooked worms!

    To keep composting through winter there, it sounds like you need a bigger, or additional, compost bin. I’m hoping to find a house with a big yard so I can expand our compost considerably. I’ve got access to free chicken and goat manure – all I want – and cheap hay, so I could really go crazy with the compost if I had room. Maybe I could start a side business selling worms for fishing. LOL

  9. We just started vermicomposting and it was so easy! Two big plastic storage tubs (like the kind you use to store clothes in, we got them for a few bucks at the Dollar General). Place 4 clean cans in the bottom of one bin. Drill some holes in the bottom of the second bin, then nest it inside the first bin, on top of the cans (allows for drainage of non-smelly liquid, very small amount). Fill top bin with shredded newspaper (took about 15 minutes to tear into shreds). Place clump of dirt w/ worms into bin (we got the worms from a friend who had plenty in his bin). Begin adding food scraps. Voila!

    It’s amazing how the bin doesn’t smell bad at ALL! It just smells like damp earth, which is really totally inoffensive and rather pleasant. We just throw in food scraps and mix it up every couple of weeks. The worms are doing great!!

  10. I’m feeling fortunate to live in the temperate Pacific Northwest right now. Our compost does move more slowly in the winter, but the worms survive. Also, I have to admit, the idea of worms in my house does kind of give me the heebie-jeebies.

    Still, I think it’s a great solution if it works for you. I look forward to hearing about it next year, and maybe getting over some of my squeamishness.

  11. your worms will come back! mine die in the winter too, but by march or april they’re back and kicking. er, wiggling ;)

  12. We use an old trash can as “cold compost” in our garage. As soon as it’s warm out, we will dump it into our compost pile where it will break down eventually. Worms belong outside, not inside. ;)

  13. I have been meaning to do this. I would love to have a worm composting bin under my kitchen sink. My daughters would think it was absolutely fantastic. :)

  14. Although the cold slows down the decomposting process I still have the compost bin in the garden, every week I mix the stuff inside and I don’t use worms. I believe I will have fertile soil in spring to use in the garden.

  15. I just started a vermicomposting bin last summer. It is not very big but I can only feed them so many scraps. I have 5 or 6 other compost piles going all the time. Those house worms too naturally. :)
    I surrounded my little worm box with straw bales and layered some straw on top too. The box is in the sunniest part of the yard and gets fairly good sun through the winter. I was amazed that my worms lived through this winter. Even the straw is frozen to the top of the box. And they are out there wriggling around.
    If you add just a little more protection, your worms might just make it fine outside too.
    My kids think worms are fantastic too. They love playing with them and building worm condos.

  16. I learned about this at the CC Farmer’s Market last summer and got really excited because we have a 8×14 porch and no yard, and I want to compost. I could put this in my basement!

    My husband rarely puts his foot down, but he said NO to this.

    My complex offers no recycling. I proposed a community compost pile and was turned down.

    I think I need to move.

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  18. Funny you posted about this, my kids just got a library book on worm farming, and now they both want to make their own worm farm.

    It’s called “Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer” by Carol Brendler. A nice intro to natural composting for kids.

  19. I’m really attracted to a wormy bin, even though we now live in a second-floor condo with no yard. But what do I do with the compost? In my old apartment, we had an apartment-wide yard waste bin which was great, but in this new place the HOA vetoed the idea because we live next to an apartment building full of rowdies who, granted, probably would make a huge mess of it all. So I’ve been researching different home-composting ideas: just storing it all in a big bucket, vermiculture, or bokashi — but then I’m stumped what I would do with the results after that. Ideas?

    And, on another note, am I the only one who would consider the worms pets? I think they would be such a cute and squiggly addition to our house! :)

  20. In our state/county, we are able (or required as of 2010) to put our food waste, including take-out pizza boxes, in our yard waste container and not in the garbage. This is then taken to a local business that turns the waste into compost and topsoil, that is then sold to local home and garden stores. Not really related to the idea of worm composting, I know, but an interesting alternative and worth checking out to see if its available if the worms gross you out!

  21. I would love it if my city required recycling and separating out yard waste. We live between 2 sets of hard partying bachelors and neither house recycles the vast amount of beer bottles and cans they empty. It makes me sick. We don’t get yard waste bins, in the fall the city will pick up bags marked as leaves, but that’s it, and if you want your Christmas tree composted, you have to haul it in yourself.

    Yesterday was recycle day, and the people down the street not only put out a tiny bin filled with lightweight stuff that blew all over the street, they didn’t bother to pick it up either. Guess who did? Right, me. Three bags of disgusting plastic that would have otherwise ended up in the Bay.

    On the subject of recycling, I’m curious to know if anyone has tried to compost a bag from Sun Chips. The label claims it’s biodegradable, does it actually work?

  22. Hi – I have been lurking for a while and now I have something to say! Have you seen “16 and Pregnant” on MTV – I know, I don’t usually watch that either, but last night I was shocked. I saw two episodes and neither had the drama-injected birthing scenes and I assume that this is targeted to teens girls. I was really impressed as the young mothers are really brave and not one of them had the screaming or the emergency c-section.

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