From Food Scraps to Dinner Plate – Experiment 1: Worms as the Catalyst

When my spouse and I first moved to Skara, there was no public service for managing food waste – so we decided to set up our own solution! But how do you recycle food scraps in the confines of an apartment? We decided to go for an apartment-friendly worm compost.

We chose the Wormfactory by Nature’s Footprint and ordered it from our favorite local gardening store Wexthuset.se. The Wormfactory is a convenient, stacked composter, that allows you to produce more compost by building up from the same square meter of floor space. The system is outlined nicely in Nature’s Footprint’s official video:

Worm farm
Our worm farm. The netting keeps pests out and the paper keeps dirt off the floor.

We followed the instructions – collected our vegetable food scraps, fed the worms, maintained the worm farm, and added new trays as necessary. After a few small modifications (like adding netting to keep out fruit flies and pests), we had a working system. The outcome? A wonderful fertiliser known as vermicompost!

By using this vermicompost as a fertiliser, soil amendment and basis for compost tea, we did not need to purchase any plant food or pesticides.

And the end result speaks for itself – tasty, healthy veggies harvested from the greenhouse on our balcony.

With that said, we did have some challenges. At one point, the Worm Farm was contaminated with centipedes (these guys eat worms and worm eggs!) – so we had to track them down and remove them. We got snails into our vermicompost from supermarket vegetables – so we had to deal with them too. On top of that, there was a dry heat wave over summer, which caused our vermicompost to simply dry up and our worms to die off in droves. When we replenished our worm population, we got worms from a farmer who kept them in an open compost pile on the ground (we did not know this when we got them), so in addition to the worms, we ended up with a host of other critters that weren’t suitable for apartment composts.

These challenges have taught us some valuable lessons:

  • Check on your worms regularly (at least once a week)
  • If your worms are trying to escape, check for dryness, pests/predators, pesticide and strong chemicals (including chili and citrus). Once the problem is removed, your worms will settle down again.
  • Check that your starting population of worms is appropriate for your worm farm (ie. farmed off the ground or in a closed bin).
  • Keep your compost indoors during heat waves and in the winter. Mist the compost with water as needed during dry weather.

In spite of our challenges, I would still recommend a worm compost to anyone willing to give it a try. It is a great way to learn about the web of life and the real value of what we normally consider as “waste”. Pay attention to a few small points and you will be producing your own plant fertilizer in no time.

In summary, here are the pros and cons of a small worm compost:

Pros

  • No smell
  • Fits in almost any apartment
  • Free fishing bait!
  • Encourages you to buy organic produce – pesticides may kill your worms
  • Produces awesome fertilizer
  • Very low maintenance, once set up
  • Significantly faster than regular composting (about half the time)

Cons

  • There is a learning curve
  • You cannot compost meat, dairy or citrus in this system
  • Takes some maintenance – not much, but it must be done or your worms will die
  • You must avoid contamination by unwanted bugs or you may have to start over

That’s the first test done! Now it’s time to take this to the next stage!

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