Indoor Composting:

Using Worms to Create the Richest Soil

A thousand worms feasting on garbage in your home…sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it?  Nothing like a bunch of slithering creatures chewing on your old food scraps just a few feet away from where you eat your meal.  Well, Urban Treehousers, this just so happens to be the basic formula of an eco-friendly compost bin!

While worms get a bad reputation for being slimy and disgusting, they can be quite the little helpers.  In fact, by using them in a compost bin, they can break down food waste and create rich soil that even the best fertilizers can’t replicate!

Behold!  The magical process of Vermicomposting: nature’s way of creating food for itself.  But this power is neither secret nor difficult to obtain.  Anybody can make their own compost bin, whether living in an apartment, condo, or house, using a few household supplies.

In the accompanying video, host Alexis Cornejo shows her friend Nina Whitsett how to make this miracle of nature in 15 simple steps, which are detailed below.

First, the supplies you will need:

  • Shallow Rubbermaid bin with cover
  • Old paper/wrapping (not plastic!)
  • Drill
  • ½ lb. food scraps (fruit peels, bread, coffee grounds, etc.)
  • Large bowl
  • 1 lb. of worms (~1,000 red wigglers)

When creating a Vermicompost bin, you want to think of it as a home for your worms.  Like humans, worms prefer a certain amount of air, bedding, moisture, and food.  An easy way to remember this process is to break down the steps into these categories, starting with:


  • Grab Rubbermaid bin
  • Drill small holes along all four sides of bin roughly 1-2 inches from the top

Not only does this let the worms breathe, but it keeps your bin from smelling.  Boom!  Part one done!

Next, we have:


  • Gather newspaper/thin cardboard/wrapping
  • Tear paper into thin pieces
  • Separate paper into two piles: base layer and top layer

You want to have a good amount so that the worms are comfortable.  They love rest and relaxation as much as we do!  Now, on to part three!


  • Fill large bowl with water
  • Dunk handfuls of base layer paper into bowl (leave top layer alone)
  • Soak the paper, then squeeze it like a sponge
  • Separate the strips and spread them along the bottom of the bin
  • Do this until you have filled about a quarter of the bin

The soaking and squeezing of the paper is important because you want the right amount of moisture. Worms actually breathe through their skin, so if it’s too wet they will drown; too dry and they will dehydrate.  When you make the bedding, don’t think Amazon rainforest and definitely not Sahara Desert—go with a Mediterranean climate.  Worms love Greece and Italy.  Speaking of delicious food, on to part four!

Food Waste

  • Add the 1 lb. of worms (~1,000 red wigglers)

  • Collect food scraps and crumble/tear them into tiny pieces

  • Place ½ lb. of food bits into ONE area of the bin.  Change areas every time you feed!

  • Put dry top layer bedding over the worms and food waste

  • Cover the bin with lid, and your compost bin is done!

The dry bedding is meant to keep moisture in, as well as keeping flies and other insects from getting to the food.  The cover is also protection, while keeping the worms in a cool, dark environment.

Tips To Remember

  • Be patient!  It will take 3-6 months before your bin is ready to be harvested, and then the magic will be unleashed!

  • Store compost bin in a dark cool area that ranges between 55-80 degrees.

  • Worms are sensitive to loud noises and vibrations, so keep that in mind.

  • For feeding, it’s best to follow a 2:1 ratio.  So for every pound of worms in your compost bin, you’ll want to feed them a half pound of food.

  • Don’t feed worms dairy, meat, metals, or plastics!  This goes for the bedding as well—no aluminum or plastic wrap.

  • If the compost bin smells bad, this usually means there’s a lack of oxygen or an abundance of moisture.  To fix this, remove large pieces of food the worms haven’t gotten to, and fluff the bedding to let the air circulate.

  • If worms try to escape, try shining a light into the bin to get the worms to burrow until they get comfortable.  Tough love!

Cost of Project

  • Bin: $5

  • Worms: $15

  • Drill: $40

  • Bedding: Free

So those are the steps to create your very own compost bin.  Again, the point of all this work is to harness nature’s power to create the ultimate soil, which can be used to grow your own plants and vegetables.  On a higher level, though, we need to take responsibility for the impact we have on our environment, especially when it comes to waste.

Every time you throw away food, it is taken to a landfill where it starts to produce methane.  Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfills are the second largest producer of methane gas, which contributes greatly to global warming.  Not to mention it’s also a potential source of groundwater pollution.

Composting is a win-win situation.  You can save money, resources, and the earth.  Plus, composting is fun, and such a rewarding experience to be a part of!  So whatever you take from the earth, please take the time to give it back!

For more information regarding Vermicomposting, check out these links:

Red Worm Composting

Vermicomposting 101

Indoor Composting

Don’t know where to buy worms?  Check out these sites:

California Worm Suppliers

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm

Lazy’s Red Wigglers

Thank you for joining us today!  Please come back in the next 3-6 months to see us harvest this compost bin!

Community Gardens:

Hannah Maximova and the Monterey Road Eco-Community Gardens

Step outside your home and you’ll likely hear tires screeching, horns honking, and engines revving—the familiar sounds of traffic and life in a big city. They’re the noises that define the greater area of Los Angeles, where roads, buildings, and concrete extend as far as the eye can see.

On the corner of Monterey Road and Cordova Avenue in Glendale, however, there’s a different kind of traffic happening; only instead of cars and streets there are insects and soil; tomatoes and sunflowers rather than billboards and parking structures. The street noise is drowned out by a spraying hose. There’s no smell of car exhaust here; just the soft, soothing aroma of lavender and basil. It’s another kind of life happening in this enclosed space right next to the 134 freeway—the lively yet tranquil environment of a community garden.

This specific garden belongs to the Monterey Eco-Community Gardens of Glendale, a group founded in April 2009. Their mission is in tandem with the Coalition for a Green Glendale, in which they plan to not only turn vacant city lots into community gardens, but promote awareness of local environmental issues and encourage fellow citizens to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Some things are unrecognizable. The onions we can grow in here…it was unlike any onion I’d ever tasted. It was incredible.

— Hannah Maximova

On this particular day, Hannah Maximova, a mother and former chairwoman of the Community Gardens group, waters her area of the garden. As she likes to say, nowadays, she’s “just a gardener,” but having done so for many years, she’s picked up a lot of information that most people lack in a big city. For starters, she grows her own food, “It’s amazing to get to participate in understanding nature enough that you can produce food. Before this, I didn’t know how to make my own food grow out of the ground. But I sure do now.”

This includes a wide range of vegetables one can find in a grocery store. The difference, however, is that the quality and taste of the produce from a home garden is significantly higher. As Hannah points out, “Some things are unrecognizable. The onions we can grow in here…it was unlike any onion I’d ever tasted. It was incredible.” There’s nothing quite like a vegetable or fruit eaten fresh from a garden, and it’s not only about the taste, but the nutrition as well. Hannah describes it even further, “This is why the old people from the old country cry when they eat a real tomato. Because they remember real food, and how it nourishes you.”

But there’s more to this garden than vegetables. One of the great advantages of a community garden is the chance to interact with the community. Glendale happens to be home to people of numerous backgrounds and cultures, and it shows in their gardens, “We have all different countries here, and when people go home to visit, they come back with seeds. So we get native seeds from all over the world…It’s like their plots are little versions of their country.” Not only are there exciting personalities, but a chance to learn generations of knowledge regarding plants many have never seen before. The garden is a communal effort; so people like Hannah never feel alone when they are there, “We all learn from each other and share food with each other, and it’s fascinating and fun.”

We say if everybody knew what was happening here, these would be on every corner of the country.

— Hannah Maximova

Another enjoyable experience of the community gardens is the use of compost, which is a purely organic fertilizer made of decomposed materials. The Monterey Gardens have an entire compost area, with two people assigned to manage it, “We compost everything from our plot. It’s unbelievable. There is no fertilizer that can touch what compost accomplishes…A few weeks ago, I harvested a compost bin, and filled my plot, and [my plants] doubled in a very, very short time.” Hannah’s experience is an example of recycling waste to the point where she is literally feeding the earth with its own product. There’s no need for synthetic fertilizers when she has something far richer and sustainable right in front of her.

This is one of the most important advantages of the community garden, in that it’s an eco-friendly, sustainable environment. Having been with the organization since its inception, Hannah knows as much as anyone about the impact that the garden has had for the city, as well as for the individuals who use the garden. On her own personal level, Hannah talks about the satisfaction she gets from gardening, “It’s lovely to have some place where you know no harm has come to anybody, and you’ve helped. The bees are fed, you know? The lizards are fed. Necessary parts of my eco-environment are stronger because of my gardening.” This can be true for anyone who wants to take care of a garden. When you give to the earth, you get something back, and that’s what living green is all about.

On a lighter note, a community garden is not just a place for adults and serious gardeners; children are also welcome to help maintain the plants and watch nature in action, “For apartment and condo dwellers, our kids get to understand food and nature.” This is especially true if they’re interested in all the bugs one can find in a garden. Hannah has had numerous encounters with insects of all kind, including one with a praying mantis, “It was looking at me, and it reached into the air, and pulled a bee out of the air with one hand, and then started eating it like a burger. And I could hear it crunching…And I’ve also seen a praying mantis being eaten by a bunch of bees. It’s revenge!”

At the end of the day, though, a community garden is a great place to interact with people who enjoy growing their own food and plants, while doing their own part to promote an eco-friendly lifestyle. This is especially true in an urban setting. As Hannah puts it, “We say if everybody knew what was happening here, these would be on every corner of the country.”

We may achieve this goal one day, but for now, we can start with community gardens in our local areas. Hannah says it best, “It is such a lovely way to spend your afternoon. For free.”

For more information on the Monterey Eco-Community Gardens of Glendale, or for your own local community gardens, click on the links below.

Monterey Eco-Community Gardens of Glendale:



Community Gardens (LA):

LA Community Garden Council

Community Gardens (Pasadena):

Pasadena Community Gardens

Community Gardens (Orange County):

Guide To Start A Community Garden

David Rathbun

David Rathbun is a simple man. One who enjoys long naps, back rubs, and plates of bacon, in that order. In his spare time, he tends to ride his bike to the beach, binge-watch television shows, and revert to childhood at Disneyland. In a perfect world, he would be writing an Oscar-winning screenplay. In the meantime, Urban Treehouse is delighted to have him as our bloggosaurus rex.