Hello, friends! After reading the SpoiledNYC on Sep 2 newsletter that included GroundCycle (NYTimes article here), I went on a spree on finding composting opportunities in NYC now that the Department of Sanitation has suspended compost (brown bin) pickups since May 4, 2020 through June 30, 2021.
Compost in NYC: GrowNYC locations
Jump to the bottom to get the latest in the WORMIE DIARIES.
IMO: The DOS never brought this program fully across all NYC neighborhoods and the areas that were part of the program didn’t participate. Honestly, when this rolled out, they should’ve fined people for NOT using it, or changed the collection schedule for compost to 2x a week and shrink the landfill garbage collection to 1x a week to drive people to compost more to take their “trash” out. I remember my dad was so scared we were going to get fined that we bought a ton of compostable bags. (DSNY did not fine for using clear plastic bags plus I’ve learned from use that the BioBags for 13 gallon can barely hold 6 gallon without breaking… often requiring double bags.)
Alrightie. So I know my friend Belinda over at A Healthy Blueprint has this amazing Google Sheet with all the NYC composting options. I also remembered reading her blog post about a worm compost bin: how to start and what she wish she knew, so I decided to embark on this journey too. I also found a good resource from NYC Compost Project on indoor composting with a worm bin.
I started collecting my food scraps right away! I know that home composting solutions are not as all-encompassing for food scraps as DSNY was… so I was saving veggie scraps as I was prepping meals. We already save coffee grounds (they are great at deodorizing) and started to save tea leaves as well.
Finding the Right Worm Bin
I wasn’t in love with the one plastic tote solution since it makes it difficult to actually get the compost soil out without disturbing the worms. I was browsing Uncle Jim’s outdoor compost bin options and saw the Hungry Bin Flow-Through Worm Farm, but not sure if I wanted to invest the $350 for a “garbage” bin just yet.
On YouTube, Kevin found an easy DIY video by “Epic Gardening” that emulated this tiered bin contraption.
I remembered my cousin has extra plastic storage bins laying around, so we went to pick them up! Epic Gardening used 3 plastic bins, so I picked up a 3rd bin from Costco that looked similar (it wasn’t the same bin).
Prepping Food Scraps for My Wormies
After reading a ton of articles online on caring for your worms, one thing that a few bloggers/gardeners noted is that the red wiggler worms will need about 6 pounds of “bedding”. So I am glad that LES Ecology Center didn’t have any worms on Fri Sep 5 (they said it was too hot) because I need more time to collect 6 pounds of scraps!
- Found a plastic bin I saved and dumped scraps in: coffee grounds, tea leaves, egg shells. then I added some shredded paper
- Realized the big plastic bin took up too much space and moved to a smaller plastic bin. 1.5 pounds thus far with more cabbage, fruit stems…
I actually moved the red lid plastic jar’s contents back into the gray-plastic jar and put it into my freezer. Since it will be at least another week before I can actually use the scraps as worm bedding, I don’t want stuff to start rotting. I also save my coffee and tea compost by leaving it open in the kitchen (it does not attract pests), so I can reduce the space needed in the freezer/bin. I also realized I didn’t need to shred paper to put into the plastic bin since I can just save the brown paper in a paper bag and shred when ready to load the worm bin! I already have a brown paper bag so separating my paper recyclable to pick out the brown bags was pretty easy.
Rinsing eggshells is a new process for me. With DSNY, we typically just throw it straight into compost, but I read that rinsing is better to prevent spoilage.
- Chopping up the scraps will help your worms eat faster
- Try to balance the green and brown levels to 25/75
- Red wigglers can eat up to 1/2 it’s weight per day
- Sources: LES Ecology Center, TheSpruce, The Squirm Farm Infographic
|OK – GREEN / NITROGEN||OK – BROWN / CARBON||NOT OK|
|carbon air filters|
egg shells, rinsed
fruit scraps (except citrus)
tea bags (that are not plastic)
virgin human hair & nails
|brown paper bags|
animal products, feces
anything treated with pesticides
citrus (lime, lemon, pineapple – acidic)
white napkins (bleached)
Try to limit or avoid these foods entirely:
avocado pit (will spoil)
dairy foods (will spoil)
fats or fatty foods (will spoil)
meat (will spoil)
onions & skins (acidic)
potatoes & skin
tomatoes & peel (acidic)
Prevent and Be Aware of Other Bugs/Pests
- Learn more from: SF Gate – Problems With White Bugs in a Worm Farm
- Check on the bin often, especially in the beginning
- Every worm bin is different in the food / water levels it needs
Time to DIY the Worm Bin!
Sat, Sep 5: Since I couldn’t pick up worms from LES Ecology Center, we decided to drill holes another time to prevent bugs from crawling into the bins (which will require clean up later). Plus, we didn’t buy any breathable mesh to cover the holes so… gotta wait! Hopefully I hear back from LES soon so I can pickup my 1 lb of red wiggler worms!
Fri, Sep 11: called LES Ecology Center and was told worms would not be available until end of the month. I went to Uncle Jim’s farm online and their shipping took a week but they were listed on Amazon for a shorter delivery time. Sorry small biz, +1 for Bezos. The Amazon listing said 100 worms for $22, which was approx 2 oz. 2 ounces!!!! So little compared to LES at the same price for 8x more at one pound!!
Sun, Sep 13: bin prep time.
Our power drill actually didn’t have the right drill bit. We didn’t realize this until attempting to drill holes into the heavy duty bin. BJs GSC 27 gallon bin – HEAVY DUTY AF. We had to hold a nail and use that to drill into the bin and through. Took 2.5 hours for 80% of one box.
Ripped strange ink off the Amazon boxes (they never confirmed it’s soy based and we don’t wanna take any chances so early on). Cut cardboard until my hand got a blister ☹️
Tue, Sep 15: Sis starts drilling more holes. We realized it was too small for the worms to crawl through. Epic Gardener recommended 1/4” holes and ours was barely that. Goes on Amazon and buys drill bits. Patiently wait until drill bits arrive.
The Wormie Diaries
Wed, Sep 16: Gets Amazon alert at 11 AM that worms are arriving in the evening. Freaking out because drill bits are arriving next day. FedEx delivers the box and doesn’t even note it (Amazon delivery notice was a bit late). Worms arrive mid-day 😱. Dashed off with a small plastic bin (Sterilite 6 qt shoe box) as temporary home with a pint of food scraps (about 24 logan fruit shells and 2 avocado shells) and 3 little brown paper bags.
It didn’t seem like 100 worms and definitely felt a bit more than 2 oz but not by much. You can see our worm un-bagging over on Twitter:
I get yelled at by my sister for including logan seeds because they are so big and worms don’t have teeth… so it will take forever to decompose ☹️. We shred more paper and we pour water slowly. Uncle Jim says to add 1/2 cup of water to hydrate the worm soil bag. We put in 4 oz. Food scraps also have water so we think it’s OK. The plastic clear bin isn’t exactly airtight so I put a laundry mesh bag covering it in case worms escape and to prevent pests. Tucks into a cardboard bin in the yard to deter bright light. Wonders if we should bring the bin indoors since it’s so small.
Thu, Sep 17: 24 hours later – time to check on the bin. The worms had a field day checking out their new home. They left dirt marks everywhere. I take the lid off and 2 worms on chilling on the lid. A little fly flies out. Or maybe it was already flying around before I removed the lid 🤷🏻♀️. I remove some of the paper shreds on top and toss in 3/4 pint of food scraps (the bag of greens—choy sum—in the picture above and 1 avocado skin). I place a cardboard piece on the top since many on YouTube and blogs say it helps prevent smells and pests.
Hand is tired from drilling. But looks good.
Fri, Sep 18: still prepping the bins by covering the air holes on the top of the sides with mesh/light fabric. Can’t have wormies escape and to prevent pests. 48 hours since wormies were put into the bin — and they are bigger!! I saw one crawling on the edge before it burrowed itself back into the darkness.
The greens I fed it yesterday was starting to rot… it was smelling. So we plucked all the greens we saw out, which was about 50% of yesterday’s pint. Good to know the wormies are enjoying their food. The greens brought a LOT of moisture into the bin so we mixed the mixture around to even everything out. Moisture level seemed OK though — that sting out sponge feel. We saw a TON of wormies in one section all lovely. It was a bit gross seeing a bunch of them together at once though tbh 😳
Sat, Sep 19: went out to check on worms really quick. Didn’t have time to snap a video or more photos. Fed it half a pint of scraps. Btw this is the laundry mesh I used temporarily as we finished up the big bins. The 6 qt shoebox does close tight so the worms could still get air. This mesh was used to prevent worm escape and pests from getting in.
Sun, Sep 20: didn’t check the wormies 😦 but did collect food scraps!
Mon, Sep 21: moving day!! Worms get a 18x home upgrade to the 27 gallon tote. To visualize, left is the 6 qt shoebox vs 27 gallon (108 qt) bin.
The new 27 gallon bin is so child-proof. I couldn’t get the lid off for a good 30 seconds. I have a video of my struggle sounds, ha! Check out a video of their move here:
Tue, Sep 22: fed a loose cup of egg shells, coffee grounds, enoki mushroom, tea bags. Wormies doing well in the new bin. Food seems to be gone so we can probably start to feed a full pint daily 🙌🏻 . I also throw away the huge gray plastic bin I froze as food scrap prep. I thought I would have more worms and they would be eating faster… but it’s taking up way too much space in my freezer 🙁
Wed, Sep 24: fed a PACKED pint of watermelon, coffee grounds, 1 avocado shell, crushed egg shells, bok choy
Thu, Sep 25: a few fruit flies in the bin, which means they came from the food scraps I fed. Moving forward, will freeze scraps before putting into the bin, since freezing kills any bug larvae (I feed non-frozen watermelon and bok choy the day before :/ ). Watermelon from yesterday was mostly gone. Smells like soil instead of rotting food. Can’t tell if there is worm poop yet since there is so little in the bin.
Fri, Sep 26: fed it some thawed frozen items (watermelon skin, egg shells, peppers) and some coffee/tea grounds. Not many flies today.
Sat, Sep 27: Defrosted food scraps in my fridge… 1 lb 3 oz worth. I think the wormies can handle it?
Sun, Sep 27: didn’t end up feeding them yesterday. I drained all the liquid out of the pints, which was a good amount. Didn’t weigh it again but definitely not as heavy. I added in 2/3 cup soil I have around the apartment (back when I thought I could plant more succulents) after reviewing the soil contents — doesn’t seem to have anything bad for the wormies. Also, really because there’s not enough bedding in the bin… barely have an inch of height LOL.
More fruit flies today but not overwhelming. Glad the bin is outdoors because I would HATE to them inside the home. The bin was more moist than a wrung sponge so I threw in 3 handfulls of shredded brown paper.
- Outside temperature: 77 F
- Bin temperature: 85 F (using contact-less thermometer, below), upper limit of 80 F
- Solution: move bin to shady area in the backyard. Heat shouldn’t last all day that should help it cool down a bit
Mon, Sep 28: worm bin was very moist — there was condensation on the sides of the bin. The cardboard layer on top was also starting to get moist. More fruit flies. Shuffled the worms around to move the moist spots around with 6 handfuls of shredded brown paper. Fed it 2 pints, loosely packed, with veggie scraps. Worms don’t seem to have gotten fatter at all 🙁 but they are alive and moving!
Wed, Sep 30: skipped yesterday so we can slowly ease worm bin checks. Worm bin felt very warm and moist as we were moving things around. Added in 2 shredded cardboard boxes (big enough to hold Nike shoe boxes) that we had in the bin already to tackle some of the moisture problem. No liquids in the middle bin or bottom bin so we don’t have a big problem YAY.
- Bin temperature: 70 F – dropped 10 F since Monday, which is good
- Weighed a pint of scraps 9.6 oz with some corn husk, muscat grape skin, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells
Fri, Oct 2: skipped yesterday and worms were doing well. Not as much moisture as before. We added 2 pints of food scraps and some cardboard and browns to help balance it out. Lots of paper mites >__>
- Bin temperature: 60 F
Mon, Oct 5: 2 pints / 1 lb of leftovers, including muscat grapes, corn husk, coffee grounds, tea leaves, bok choy, carrots… My sister also had about the same amount of veggie scraps and egg shells. This should be enough for the entire week so we don’t have to check until Sunday. Trying to reduce the time we need to monitor now that everything seems good so far.
A TON of paper mites though–crawling all over the sides and near the air hole covers (maybe they cannot survive without more air but there are SO MANY more paper mites than there were 2 days ago). Prob from the 5 cardboard boxes we’ve left inside the bin. We ended up taking the 4 boxes out
- Bin temperature: 67 F
Sat, Oct 10: missed the wormies and took a quick peak to make sure they are OK. No prob. Some more flies but not a big deal.
Wed, Oct 14: feeding time! I had some lettuce that started to go bad (who said salads are good? bleh) that was 16 oz and 2 more pints of coffee grounds + tea leaves (14 oz total). Dirt all over the bin edges and lid which means the worms were climbing EVERYWHERE. All leftovers we put in over a week ago was GONE. We were hoping it ate more paper but it seems almost the same.
Bin temperature: 66 F, and then 61 F when I checked again.
Sat, Oct 17: had a pint defrosted for 2 days already so went to feed the worms before it decays some more… even though we fed them recently. My sister added another pint the same day. We did not add more paper…
Oct sometime between these 2 days: OMG we opened the bin and the sides were COVERED in white mites (little round white looking eggs)!! Didn’t take a pic because it was so gross to look at. We didn’t deal with it since we didn’t have time. Did a bit of online blog reading (here) and learned that:
- White mites appear when there is an imbalance in the worm bin due to too much moisture or too low pH
- Because we didn’t feed paper the last 2 feedings, we were putting ourselves in a BAD situation 🙁
- Add more paper
- Add more crushed eggshells to up the pH level
Tue, Oct 27: defrosted a pint of veggie scraps and kabocha pumpkin! Also a pint of tea leaves. Worms were doing fine. The edges of the bin were still full of white mite eggs… so I wiped it all up.
Fri, Nov 6: late afternoon worm feeding time. I had a rectangle plastic takeout container box full of kabocha pumpkin 🎃. I read worms love pumpkin hehehe
Sat, Nov 14: so much defrosted and ready to feed! I had 7 pints saved up and 1 pint of coffee/tea/eggshells. I fed them 4 pints.
It’s been 2 months since we started the worm bin so we figured it’s time to switch bins for the worms to migrate up and harvest the compost.
We moved a lot of paper scraps from bin #1 to bin #2 as the new bedding. My sister watched a ton of YouTube to see how people harvest their worm compost… a huge sifter to not get the paper through 😅. Maybe we overfed with paper. I also picked out some stuff that was molding — it looked like grape branches. It must be too thick for the worms so I will chop it up more next time! We also saw 2 sprouts!!! 🌱 it looked like a bean sprout. That’s how healthy our bin is… and worms not eating fast enough 😱
The lower bin (which doesn’t get moved) actually had some liquid at the bottom! It was maybe like 4 oz or so. I just poured it straight into the soil. There was also 4 worms in that bin — why did they stay there with no food 🤷🏻♀️
Sun, Nov 15: ended up finding an even bigger bin at Target (looking for a restroom): Sterilite 45gal Latching Storage Tote – Gray with Green Latch. The measurements were bigger than my current BJs bin and it has wheels! It was also 10% off so I was so happy ^—^
Tue, Nov 17: I still had 4 pints of defrosting food in my fridge… so I went to feed the worms. I moved the BJs bins into the new Sterilite bin… but it couldn’t close because I didn’t account for the height of 3 bins! I stuffed some insulation on the sides — random polyester fiber I bought for another purpose.
Sat, Nov 20: We decided that with winter coming, separating the bins was not a good idea. It was also 55 F around noon so we went to combine the top and middle bin again so there could be more heat inside the bin. When we lifted the top bin with all the food scraps from the last 2 feedings, we didn’t really see any worms inside as we poured it into the middle bin. The top bin also smelled more like food than the usual soil smell because the worms haven’t gotten around to them yet. Only 1 worm was at the bottom of the top bin, which means the worms barely made their way up to get food. We added in about 4 more pints of food — avocado shells, cabbage, tea/coffee grounds, eggshells, not quite defrosted pears…. Frozen items are generally not recommended since they will decrease the temperature of the bin and away from ideal temperature of 55-60 F. I figured it was a warm day and it would be OK for a little bit. We definitely overfed but we don’t plan to open up the bin until March so the heat stays trapped 🙁
Preparing for winter: we stuffed more polyester I found laying around the house on the sides. We also stuffed 1 padded shipping envelope on the longer side as more insulation. It definitely won’t be enough to keep them 100% warm in the winter, but we’re hoping they can last through early Dec with the food before they die from the cold 🙁 . We saw more worms with banded/wider ends, which Uncle Jim (worm farm) said are storing the worm eggs! We did see 1 SUPER TINY worm baby. It was the thickness of like 3 strands of hair. So we’re hoping they lay eggs in the bin so they hatch in March. Circle of life :O
We recorded a video of all this! So working to edit it and post to YouTube. Thanks for following me on the compost worm journey! Excited to see what the bins will look like in March!
I’m glad you are interested in my wormies! I hope you start a bin as well to save your food scraps from landfill 🙂