Compost happens

My Mom used to throw her banana peels and egg shells into a pile behind our suburban home, and little did I know that she was creating a little miracle of nature right there, next to the garage.



As a Master Composter and a city dweller, I am geekily committed to bringing awareness to the ease and importance of composting in an urban environment.

I am dedicated to giving you reliable and realistic resources for urban composting, and creating a community of composters.  Composting can and should be an easy, intuitive, and fun part of your life.

The two major divisions of composting techniques are where your pile is stored: indoors or out.  


Worms live in my kitchen: If you don't have an outdoor space, or would like to compost all winter long, an indoor compost bin is the way to go.  A time-tested approach to indoor compost is a vermiculture system (AKA worm bin).

First, a little bit about worms:

Who we are:
Eisenia fetida commonly known as Red Wigglers.  We are different from common earthworms, mainly because we are surface dwellers... which is perfect for compost!  Our main job is to eat, poop, and make worm babies.  Our poop is pretty special though (if we do say so ourselves).  It is the "black gold" that fertilizes organic farms, livens up your house plants, and makes perfect potting soil.  We complete the circle of sustainability by eating your garbage and turning it into something that helps your food grow.  You're welcome.

What we eat:
vegetable trimmings (i.e. carrot ends, celery tops, knobby lettuce ends, etc)
apple cores
crushed egg shells (rinsed out)
tea leaves and tea bags
coffee grounds and filters*
potato peels
vegetables that have been in the fridge too long and gone bad

What we DON'T eat:
citrus fruits (i.e. lemons, grapefruit, orange)
spicy and/or waxy vegetables like green pepper, jalapenos, etc.
meat, bones, fish
dairy products
pet waste
*excessive amounts of coffee grounds are not healthy.  Use in moderation!
** Some of these items are ideal for an outdoor compost bin, but we are slightly more delicate!

Recipe for a perfect indoor compost bin:


  • One plastic tub with lid (rinsed with soap and water) Note:  size is approx. 4 sq. ft in size, NO MORE than 10-16 inches deep
  • Drill with ¼” bit 
  •  ½ to 1 lb. red wigglers (Eisenia fetida, available at
  • Handful of soil 
  • Newspaper (No glossy ad pages)
  • Spray bottle of water 
  •  Food waste* (See above "what we eat")


  •  Drill holes in the lid of your bin.  The more the merrier
  • Shred newspaper into 1/4 to 1/2“ strips and lay on the bottom of the bin to form a bedding layer.
  • Spray the paper with water until damp.  The paper should only be as wet as a wrung out sponge and there should not be any liquid on the bottom of the bin.
  •  Add worms and handful of soil
  • Add a small amount of food waste*
  • Cover worms and food with another  layer of newspaper
  • Store in a cool, dark place and make sure that the bin will not be exposed to freezing temperatures
  •  Feed worms no more than 1 lb. food waste, per day, per 1 lb. worms, making sure that there is always a layer of damp newspaper covering food and worms (keeps flies away). 
Troubleshooting problems in your bin:
1.      Worms crawling up the sides: Bin is toxic (too acidic, anaerobic, etc) or too wet
Solution: remove extra liquid, add bedding, remove anything not included in food waste guidelines
2.      Bad smell/bin attracts flies: Bin too wet, overfeeding, food scraps exposed
Solution: cover with 4-6 inches of paper strips and stop feeding for 2-3 weeks
3.      Worms are dying: Bin too dry, food and bedding eaten, extreme temperatures.
Solution: keep materials in bin as moist as a wrung out sponge.  When all food and bedding is eaten, harvest compost.  Keep in a cool dark place between 55 and 77 deg.
4.      Rodents: Overfeeding, holes in bin too large.
Solution: Use traps and bait to remove rodents. Cover bin with 4-6 inches of paper and cease feeding for several weeks.  Makes sure holes are no larger than ¼ inch
5.      Sow bugs/beetles in bin: No problem!  They are good for the bin!


Things worms don't eat can be composted outside

That's why I like having both. 

If you're lucky enough to have outdoor space, then it's easy to start a compost bin.

Outdoor bins are more forgiving then worm bins, but there's still a formula to follow:
A successful compost bin has three essential ingredients:
  • Air
  • Water
  • Organic materials*
* There are two types of organic materials: BROWNS and GREENS.  Browns include dead yard waste, fallen dried leaves, and woodier, carbon-rich materials.  Greens include food waste, grass clippings, and weeds.  Greens are nitrogen-rich substances.  The ideal Carbon: Nitrogen ratio is approximately 4 to 1.  In otherwords, for whatever greens you add to the pile, you should add four times as many browns.

Building your bin:
Retailers offer a lot of options in plastic bins, but you can also build an easy bin inexpensively out of wood, trellis, or chicken wire.

For city dwellers living in Chicago, there are some basic rules you must follow:
  • Bin dimensions should not exceed 3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft.
  • Bin must have a top, bottom, and four sides
  • Airation openings should be no greater than 1/4 in.
* It's important that you protect your bin from rodent infestation.  A general rule, besides the ordinances above, is to never "dump and run".  That is, for every time you dump food wast in your bin, cover it with browns to reduce the odor.  As with a worm bin, don't add any meat or dairy products, and never dump pet waste in your bin.