My Vermicomposting Troubleshooting Experiences

It's been almost a year and a half since I started my worm bin at the tail end of winter last February. I had just begun diving into zero wasting and was trying every which way to reduce my waste and needless consumption, and found one of the best things I could do for the earth was compost!

Why I started composting

Once I really started to pay attention to what was filling up our trash, I quickly noticed it was food waste. Some of this was food scraps from peeling potatoes or cutting off nibs of carrots and onions, and some unfortunately was food that had just gone bad before I had a chance to eat it.

To resolve the latter problem, I became more mindful of what I was buying and how much. I noticed when I went to the grocery store I would just buy the usual things without much thought. I often didn't think to check if we already had what I was buying and often didn't have a plan for the food I was buying. Now when I go shopping, I make sure to look at all the food I have and make sure only to get what I need.

I also will only buy something if I need it for a meal I have planned for that week. Planning meals has been a really important concept for me because I used to come home after work and have no idea what to make and would often be missing a couple key ingredients for things I wanted to eat. Since I plan my meals now and often cook batch meals in advance, I don't have that problem and my decision fatigued brain is very appreciative!

Now to tackle the former problem, I decided to take up vermicomposting or worm bin composting to manage the amount of food waste. Instead of throwing my food scraps in the trash to then sit in a landfill forever, this seemed like the best solution for me. Being a vegetarian, it was pretty easy for me since the worms and I basically have the same diet! They've actually encouraged me to eat healthier since they can't eat processed foods, dairy, meats, etc.

How I set up my bin


Worms escaping the bin

Just like starting anything new, the beginnings of setting up my bin was a definite learning curve. 

Something to keep in mind is that it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for your worms to acclimate to their new environment. This might mean that they'll stay huddled together in a corner for a while and not eat or it could mean that they try to escape in any way possible. Unfortunately, I experienced both of these scenarios.

The first couple of days they we're huddled together because they were cold (it was winter and they were in the garage) and they weren't used to their new home yet. Once they started to get settled in they began migrating around the bin in search of food and before I knew it I was overfeeding my bin and they were all trying to escape. They were climbing up the walls, huddling against the lid of the bin and trying to escape through the air holes.

Once I realized what was happening I took out almost all the food, put it in the freezer, and placed the worms back under the soil. Then I left the lid off the bin and placed a bright light directly over it for two days. Not only did this provide them with warmth, but it encouraged them to burrow back under the soil because worms don't like bright light. Don't get me wrong, take the lid off a bin that had worms desperately trying to escape it was terrifying to me and seemed totally unintuitive, but once I sat and watched the bin for about 10 minutes and saw them actually crawling back inside I felt much more confident and at ease.

Finding a feeding balance

After a few weeks, the cycle of having the worms trying to escape and being lured back into the bin finally started to subside. I was slowly learning how to balance everything from how much food to put in, how often to feed, and what to feed them. I learned pretty quickly not to put too much food in the bin at once. I learned to carve a couple of small holes out of the soil, drop in whatever food scraps would fit in, and then whatever was left over I would freeze. Then I would cover the food with soil and give the bin a spritz of water to keep the soil a moist consistency.

Tip: Freezing and thawing food actually helps it break down faster, it becomes mushy and is easier for the worms to eat!

I started out with a regular feeding schedule where about twice a week I'd add food to the bin without really paying attention to how the worms were doing breaking down the food already in there. This was another time over feeding would occur and it would be too much for them. Now before I feed them, I take a second to sift through the bin just to make sure that there's not too much food already in there.

Another issue I've had is with what I've been feeding them. Sometimes I put too much of one thing (like potato skins) and they just get sick of eating potato skins. Like any of us, worms like variety in their meals too! You'll notice they're sick of something if week after week the same food is still untouched. Now I make a point to add a variety of fruits and vegetables and freeze excess foods for a later time.


Wanting more from my bin

I'm not going to lie, it's been an amazing experience building up my worm bin from scratch and watching my food waste be transformed into nutrient rich soil - it's magic. I never thought much about how soil was formed, the decomposition process, or much else about the world around me until recently. Now that I'm starting to gain an understanding about how things work I want to know more and do more!

That being said, I've been frustrated that I'm not able to compost all of my food waste because my bin just can't keep up with it. I've decided I'm going to build another bin, an outdoor composting bin without worms, to compost the majority of my food scraps. I'm going to DIY the bin again and build this one out of a trash can and will record the entire process! Stay tuned for an update on my outdoor bin!

Maintaining a healthy worm bin

Like I said, when I started off my bin, it was a bit of a learning curve. I had to learn to pay attention to my to my worms, be more mindful of the food I was eating and buying, and learn how to manage my bin. Now that I've gone through all of this trial and error for over a year, I've figured out that my bin works best when I just let it be, occasionally add a variety of foods, and keep it a moist consistency. Your bin should never smell like anything other than soil and should not attract flies or animals. The way to avoid this is to maintain a healthy balance of green (food scraps) to brown (paper, soil, etc.) materials, cover any foods you add with soil and/or other brown materials, and make sure to put in the right foods (i.e. no meats, dairy, oils, citrus, cooked foods, etc.). Once you start really paying attention to your bin, you'll find that it's actually pretty simple to maintain a healthy environment for your worms and you can feel good about leaving valuable foods out of the landfill!


Happy Composting!


Easy Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps

Easy Zero Waste Kitchen Swaps

Kitchens are riddled with toxic and disposable items - there is so much potential for reducing waste and toxicity!

Disposable products may appear to be cost effective however, the fact that you need to keep buying them indefinitely has proven to be more costly, and the lack of quality in these disposable products have proven to be costly for our health too.

6 Things I Love about Living with Less

I see many parallels between minimalism and zero waste.

In my preparation for living in a tiny home I have gone through several pairing down processes. It's never easy parting with our belongings - we could make endless excuses for why we need 16 iPhone 3 charging cables, cracked tupperware without a lid, 10 year old worn out shoes, and remotes to TV's we no longer own. The list goes on and on. I know this because I've been there. Pairing down is a difficult process but as anything, it get easier with time. I've learned that pairing down is a skill that gets strengthened with practice and careful intention. Luckily I've never had to furnish an entire house or apartment so I haven't had the burden owning an abundance of furniture or decorative objects. Furniture tends to be one of the hardest things to get rid of, 1 because it's cumbersome and can be physically hard to sell, give away, or even move, and 2 it can be mentally difficult to part with something that was bought with hard earned money or passed down from a family member.

But minimalism is about much more than just getting rid of clutter - it's about finding your essentials. It's about quality over quantity. It's about learning how to live a happy life with only the things you truly need. It's about favoring experiences over objects. It's about making intentional decisions. It's about hyperawareness, conscious consumerism, and careful curation of everyday life. And this is where zero waste living comes in to play.

I'm not yet at the point where I'm living with zero waste or where I can gloat about my mason jar sized trash bin, but I have been able to significantly cut down on my waste. The zero waste and minimalism movements have provided me an outlet to embrace my drive to live more sustainability and have guided me toward making more conscious decisions about my everyday life. I'm much more aware about what I'm buying, why I'm buying it, and who/where I'm buying it from. These questions that never crossed my mind before now dominate my every decision.

As a result of these decisions, here are 6 things I love about living with less.


1. Freedom

Living with less clutter, less waste, and less stuff allows me to be much more flexible, more agile. If I were to get a job offer on the other side of the country or given the opportunity to travel around the world I'll be in a much better position to accept knowing I don't have too many things anchoring me to one place. It's the freedom from the burden of owning too much stuff. It's the burden from getting myself into debt with unnecessary spending. It's the freedom to travel, freedom to worry less, and the freedom to feel confident and satisfied in the decisions I make.


2. Deeper connection with the earth

The first time I saw that food and other "waste" could be converted into soil I felt invigorated. It's so empowering to know that I can provide a service to the earth while preventing my food and paper waste from ending up in a landfill. Furthermore, I had never really considered the process of decomposition or the fact that I could personally contribute, playing a vital role in the cycle of life. It was amazing how something so primitive, so essential to the existence of every being on the earth can be so vastly overlooked.

The first time I made pizza dough from scratch it was like a lightbulb switched on. I had never really considered the process of making bread or really any other food, cleaning, or hygiene products for that matter. I had completely disregarded the fact that when I buy store bought products, someone (or something) else is making it. They choose what's in it, how it's produced, how it's packaged, and how it's distributed. I had never considered any of this until I started making my own foods and products from scratch.

It's a magical process learning about the interworkings of the world around us.


3. Awareness

I've never wanted to be someone who kept their blinders on and refused to acknowledge the existence of worldly issues. I understand; however, that for some people this is the only way to keep their peace and continue to live their lives without worry. I'll admit there are times when I do this myself - especially with animal cruelty. Every time I see one of those horrifying commercials showing abused animals in need of rescue I immediately change the channel and force myself to think of something happy to take my mind off it. It breaks my heart so I mask the pain with something that brings me joy. While I recognize that I do this, I make an effort in return to take action to help when I can. All of the dogs my family and I have owned have been rescues - never from breeders, I stopped eating meat when I realized it didn't align with my values, and I refuse to visit zoos because I don't agree with confining and depriving animals for human entertainment. I like to educate myself on issues of animal cruelty, how our electronic waste get's transported to 3rd world countries, and I like to see how my everyday decisions affect the world around me. I like to know that my dental floss may end up wrapped around a seal's neck so I know to cut it down to smaller pieces, or that I want to avoid silk products which are made from boiling silkworms alive (with the exception of Peace Silk). I like to know that it takes an average of 450 years for plastic to decompose, that we're rapidly depleting resources such as Himalayan rock salts, and that 150-200 species are forced into extinction every day. I want to know these things so I can make better informed decisions in my everyday life. Making these informed decisions isn't even an inconvenience, it's simply a different way of doing things. Many times, I find that once I get used to doing things differently, it turns out to be better for me as well as the environment.


4. Healthier

Plastic is everywhere. It's one of the hardest things to get away from in the modern world we live in and will be here long after we're all gone. In an effort to avoid plastic made and packaged products I have resorted to making my own. In making my own products I have begun researching the ingredients used in the products I used every day only to find how toxic and unhealthy they are. I take a lot of pride in, and feel a strong, primitive, earthly connection in making my own products. In doing so, I have complete control over every ingredient, I understand the purpose of each ingredient, and I get to choose the way in which its stored.

Another benefit of avoiding plastic has been the decision to buy and eat local foods. I noticed that much of the food I previously bought was packaged in plastic - including a lot of the produce I was buying. I have researched nearby stores and farms in depth enough to understand whether or not I want to support them in giving them my business. In buying locally produced, organic foods, my food is fresher, unpackaged, and I have the comfort of knowing who and where it's coming from.


5. Saving money

Fighting the urge of giving in to consumerism has allowed me to save a lot of money and headaches in the long run. I have begun investing in quality products that may be more expensive upfront but will last a lifetime thus saving me money later. I am pushing back on purchasing disposable products - an industry model that thrives on the demise of poorly made goods. I invest my money in companies that align with my values so I can feel confident in my purchases. 

Being mindful of everything that goes in and on my body has helped me become healthier. By eating organically, avoiding toxins, making well-informed decisions, and choosing quality over quantity ,I've been able to stay much healthier. By doing this, I not only feel great physically and mentally but I'm able to save money on medical expenses.


6. 19% Happier

Before making these changes in my life to live more mindfully, I never considered myself to be an unhappy person. I have always made an effort to find pleasure and happiness in simple things but lately I have felt a different kind of happy. I'm happy because I'm finally moving toward living a life that completely aligns with my values. I'm happy because I've started listening to my body and taking better care of it. And I'm happy because I see how making intentional decisions to improve my life can actually improve the quality of the environment around me.


Thanks for reading,

- Chelsea

My Homemade Zero Waste Toothpaste

My Homemade Zero Waste Toothpaste

Do you know what's in your toothpaste?

I recently bought a supposedly "healthy" toothpaste thinking I was doing a good thing for my body. Of course they were marketing toward people like me, listing on the front of the package that their product was fluoride free, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) free, carrageenan free (I don't even know what that is), and gluten free...

1 Month In - Zero Waste Blog #003

It has been 37 days since I decided to take the plunge into the zero waste lifestyle.

Some things have been surprisingly easier than I expected; some things have been predictably harder. I'd like to note that I am transitioning into the zero waste lifestyle, not going in cold turkey. It would be wasteful for me to dispose of perfectly usable plastic/unsustainable goods, so I plan to use them until they either run out or should be replaced.

Changes I've made so far:

  1. Switched to a Bamboo biodegradable toothbrush* with BPA free nylon bristles - it's a cruelty free brush that isn't completely biodegradable but is a step in the right direction. The only completely biodegradable brushes use pig/boar hair for bristles which just doesn't align with my values
  2. Making my own deodorant with just 4 simple ingredients
  3. Buying whole bean coffee in bulk or in paper packaging
  4. Buying and eat local fruits and veggies from farmers markets
  5. Stopped eating meat* in August 2016
  6. Drinking organic almond milk
  7. Using grass-fed butter* - I've debated going vegan many times but much of my protein comes from eggs and cheeses and fats come from butter since I don't eat meat, this would be a difficult transition but something I'm considering for the future
  8. Started buying only second hand clothing or very high quality clothing that will last forever
  9. Buying food in bulk using glass jars*
  10. Using canvas grocery and produce* bags instead of plastic bags
  11. Unbleached coffee filters* in biodegradable packaging
  12. Started making my own cleaning products again (recipes pending)
  13. Using a reusable menstrual cup* rather than tampons and pads
  14. Making my own toothpaste*
  15. Making my own mouthwash
  16. Avoid using non-stick cookware (fyi the non-stick coating burns off with each use leaking toxins into your food!)
  17. Get beer in refillable bottle from local brewery
  18. Composting food in an 18 gallon worm bin

Things that have been difficult:

  1. Changing my habits
    I find it difficult to break the habit of using disposable paper products like napkins, tissues, paper towels, etc. Granted I haven't yet made too much of an effort in this area - I will be moving toward this in the coming month by investing in reusable handkerchiefs and napkins.
  2. Finding meat substitutes like tofu in non-plastic packaging
  3. Finding cheeses not wrapped in plastic. My greatest discovery, before this project, was finding the vast array of affordable exotic cheeses from the Aldi Food Market. It has allowed me to explore all kinds of different cheeses I wouldn't have tried otherwise. The unfortunate thing about these cheeses is they're all wrapped in plastic and not organic
  4. Unpackaged bread (I'm going to start trying to make my own)
  5. Food storage on the go. I have no problem storing food in glass containers if it's going to be kept in the house, but carrying around 3 or 4 containers to bring to work for sandwiches, leftover lasagna, pizza, etc. can get heavy and cumbersome
  6. Wax paper and aluminum foil in baking. Sometimes recipes call for aluminum foil covered food in the oven or waxed paper for my delectable chocolate turtles! :)
  7. Finding high quality dog food that's not in plastic packaging (I currently buy her Wellness Core Grain Free* dry food)
  8. Excessive packaging from online sites/stores - sometimes it's plastic inside of plastic inside of plastic but other times it's just oversized boxes for tiny purchases.


My biggest issue so far has really been finding products that aren't wrapped or packaged in plastic. Even boxed item tends to be individually wrapped in plastic coated paper packets or plastic bags. Herbs, cheeses, yogurts, cleaning products, bathroom products, medicines, etc. are all packaged in plastic. Sometimes I'll get excited to see glass bottles but then I look up to see plastic tops! It's extremely frustrating. I'm met with furrowed brows and befuddled stares when I question why supposed health food stores and family owned organic farms and businesses that preach sustainability resort to using and carrying plastic packaging.

Just the other day I pulled into a local farm to pick up some vegetables. In the hopes of finding unpackaged organic cheeses I ran over to the small, run down dairy fridge only to find milk in plastic jugs and cheese in plastic containers! After taking a second to recover from my disappointment I gathered my veggies and proceeded to the checkout. In complete disregard to the bunches of canvas bags I was holding for my organic vegetables, I was offered plastic bags for my purchases. Here I thought by going to a small, local, organic farm I could finally get away from plastic but I was wrong. It's everywhere. I hadn't truly noticed the impossibility of living plastic free in our modern world until trying to avoid it, but it's everywhere around me. The computer screen I'm looking at, my computer speakers, mouse, podcasting mic and stand, headphones, phone case...

It's overwhelming to really analyze every one of my belongings and question the ethics and sustainability of each product. It would be crazy and almost useless to do this questioning experiment with products I already own because I already own them. There's not much I can do about something I already own except finding creative ways to reuse or recycle them. Moving forward however, I know I can use this knowledge to make more informed decisions as I make purchases overtime which will definitely help me in the long run.


Thanks for reading,
- Chelsea

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My Homemade Zero Waste Deodorant

My Homemade Zero Waste Deodorant

I used to think I needed "clinical strength" deodorant. Not because of odor, but because of perspiration. I had no idea what I was doing to my body! I mean clinical strength!? I might as well have been rubbing toxic waste on my body.

This is something we have convinced ourselves we all need...

Zero Waste Blog #001

Living more simply isn't so simple.

In the past few months I have been on a search to discover my true interests in an effort to live a more meaningful and intentional life.

In July of 2016 I was introduced to the Tiny House Movement, which is what really began my journey to where I am today.

As an architect I was not only interested in the idea of living tiny but what that means for the architecture industry and how this could potentially solve many of the housing crises around the world. My mind wandered as I fantasized about an idealistic world where instead of people ironically seeking independence by going into debt to own a home, people could now live comfortably with less in a tiny house, living more sustainably, with more flexibility in terms of location, finances, etc. I wanted to know everything about tiny living.

While investigating the magic of the tiny lifestyle, I came across this idea of minimalism which really compliments the intention behind tiny living. Minimalism is the idea that people can find happiness and purpose by living with less. It's a carefully curated lifestyle that embodies only the essentials and rids itself of excess, making room for what's most important.

In the midst of learning about all these different but interconnected ways of living I heard about a documentary called the No Impact Man. About 15 seconds in I was hooked. 1 hour and 33 minutes later I was looking around my bedroom for all of the wasteful, excessive, useless crap strewn about and started imagining a simpler life for myself, a life I could be proud of. I wanted to feel the purity of a truly intentional, sustainable, waste free life.

From here I discovered an idea of living more sustainably, i.e. the zero waste lifestyle.

It has been exactly 30 days since I started intentionally living with reasonably less waste. I am really just beginning my journey. There are some aspects that have been harder than others such as finding food alternative for things such as yogurt, cheeses, meat substitutes, and changing my daily habits like using disposable products like plastic bags and containers. This way of thinking really requires a change in mindset but has been relatively simple to find helpful resources and stores offering alternative solutions such as unwrapped produce and offering food in bulk.


Thanks for reading,


Below are some of the essential resources I've found thus far which have helped me immensely in getting started with my zero waste project.

Bulk store finder
Zero Waste Home Blog
Trash Is For Tossers - Zero waste blog
No Impact Man Documentary
The Minimalists Blog (they also have a great podcast!)
Homemade Products Blog

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