Apartment Gardening

Apartment Gardening: Making your own soil

young tomato seedlings

Get the most from those Amazon boxes and coffee grounds with these simple steps to your own organically rich soil.

With a few simple steps and a little time, you can create your own organically rich soil, and find a better use for things you already have around your home rather than send them to the landfill.


It’s amazing how many things can be put to better use that is good for the environment and your health.

The Basics:

Composting isn’t just for farms and big backyards. It can be just as easy, and valuable in the home or apartment as well.


With some everyday items from the kitchen and around the house, you can make some of the best potting soil you’ve ever seen for growing some of the healthiest vegetables you’ve ever had.


The equipment needed can be purchased or DIY and will fit in the corner of the kitchen, in a pantry, spare closet, or storeroom.

What You'll Need:

For the best results, and the easiest way to get started, I highly recommend going to Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm and have a look at the different styles of ready-made composters they have available, and finding one that suits your space and taste.


As the name implies, they also carry composting worms. 

Now, I know you are probably thinking 


“Eww, worms. No way!”


But stay with me.


I’ve done this for a few years and it’s not what you think. This is so simple and low maintenance you will practically forget you have them, and quite rewarding.


But most importantly, not only do the worms speed up the composting process, but they also supercharge it with beneficial microbes and plant-available nutrients.


250 to 500 Red Wigglers is plenty to get going for most households.

Alternative Methods:

If worms just aren’t something you can deal with, I understand.


There is a worm-free approach that works, it just takes longer.


For ease of operation, pick up a 27 gal Commander tote or similar storage container. These are super sturdy and won’t flex or change shape over time, and are easier to move and store.


Drill several 1″ holes around the sides, about 2″ below the lid. Approx 5 holes on the sides and 3 on each end for airflow.


Cover the holes on the inside with some window screen or fine mesh circles and hold them in place with hot glue or food-grade silicone to keep the bugs out.


Once a week or so, make sure the lid is snapped on correctly, roll it around and/or shake it up real good to keep the composting going evenly throughout the container.

What To Put In:

Now for the good part.

There are so many good things we can use in this system. And the more diverse the better.

  •  shredded boxes
  • coffee grounds
  • paper towel tube
  • toilet paper tubes
  • vegetable scraps
  • garden waste
  • old bread
  • Chinese takeout
  • moldy cheese
  • pizza crust
  • egg shells
  • shredded computer paper
  • Halloween pumpkins
  • junk mail
  • banana peels
  • cantaloupe rind
  • expired flowers
  • leftover pasta
  • anything from the hamster cage
  • paper plates


  1. Egg shells should be baked at 200 degrees for 20 mins to avoid issues, and ground in a spice grinder or crushed with a rolling pin. The shells provide grit for the worms’ digestive system and calcium for your plants.

Fact:  Worms eat more than their weight each day.

2. It’s easiest to soak cardboard in water till soft and then tear it into small pieces, I have put it through a food processor with great results, but it is hard on equipment. Or run through a shredder and then soaked in water. 

3. It’s best practice to remove any tape or plastic, but it won’t hurt anything. The worms will ignore it and you can remove it later. Just don’t shred it.

4. Meat scraps won’t hurt anything but have the potential for bad smells, so best to avoid them.

Getting Started:

Getting things going is relatively simple.

If using shipping boxes, they need to be shredded up as small as possible as this is the bedding for the worms to live in.

     You can also use shredded paper, coconut coir, or peat moss to get started.


Your material should be thoroughly soaked through. When you grab a handful and squeeze it into a ball, a few drops of water should come out between your fingers.


Wet enough the worms can move through the material but not so wet they drown.   

To start out, your bedding material should be 1/2 to 3/4 of what your bin can hold.

This gives the worms room to move and still leaves room to add your scraps.


When adding your scraps, spread them on top, and cover them with some more bedding material.

Just enough to completely cover the scraps.


After a few days when the worms have settled in and started working. You can start adding your scraps by just digging a hole in one corner, placing your scraps and covering them.


Each time you add something put it in a different corner. That way if there’s something the worms don’t like or aren’t ready for, they can work around it. 


Worms love ground egg shell, but you won’t have them every day.

Just collect them in a coffee can, and when it’s full, grind them up and sprinkle them on the top of your bedding.

Operation and maintenance:

Care and maintenance are pretty simple once the system is set up.

As you add scraps (food) and material to the top of your system, the worms keep moving up with it.


Leaving behind rich black soil.


For best results, keep your system where the temperature will stay somewhere between 60 and 80 degrees.


Your worms can survive at lower or higher temps for a time, but perform the best in this range.

Using Your Soil:

Now that you have made beautiful, biologically rich soil, you can use it for seed starting, potting mix, or garden soil amendment.


Add it to existing potted plants for fertilizer, or share extra with friends.


I assure you, the difference in the health, vitality, and production you will see from your plants will be truly amazing.

And you did it all with waste materials!