Terrace Composting – Yes We Can!

By - April 18, 2011 (Updated: January 13, 2015)

Happy Pansies

Happy Pansies

This spring, my terrace garden is looking perky and vibrant and it’s all thanks to my kitchen garbage and some hungry worms.

When we moved into the city three years ago, I was disappointed there was no composting option, like the green-bin that was picked up bi-weekly in Everberg. Despite trying to use some of my kitchen scraps for soup stock, I was throwing away a lot of waste I used to be able to compost.

My terrace-gardening-guru, Gilbert, suggested setting up my own composting system, on my terrace. Although I was skeptical at first, I’m happy to say, after a full year’s cycle, it’s been a huge success.

The secret to my success was worms; a few dozen were donated from Gilbert’s own compost system. They munched their way through our kitchen scraps all winter and left me with a bumper crop of beautiful compost.

Terrace Composting

After a long winter, here are the results of my vermiculture experiment (The bin was completely full of compost!)

Terrace Composting

A little sifting to take out the chunky bits and save my worms!

Terrace Composting

Compost after sifting

Terrace Composting

My beautiful compost

Here’s my system:

  • I bought  three plastic tubs at IKEA for about 30 euros total. Andrew drilled some air holes in the sides, bottom and lids (except for the top lid) so there is air circulation.
  • The bottom tub has no holes and is used to catch the water run-off from the other two tubs. I used a couple of old flowerpots inside to stand the second tub on.
  • The second tub is full of scraps (don’t use meat or anything cooked as it will smell and attract pests) and lined with occasional layers of newspaper to keep the bugs and smell down. I also toss old soil that has become pot-bound and drained of nutrients and mix that in for the worms to live in as well.
  • The top tub is my ‘in-progress’ bin and is what I toss my scraps into. When the top tub is full, it’s time to move it to the bottom and take the compost from the bottom tub.
  • I bought a small sifter from my garden centre so I can sift out any big chunks that haven’t broken down yet.

I could add more bins to the system if I wanted to but this is plenty for now.

I know what you’re thinking (because frankly I had all the same concerns before I started).

Doesn’t it take up a lot of space?

Not much actually. Here it is in a corner of my terrace. I keep it on the shady side so the worms don’t get too hot in the summer.

Terrace Composting setup

Not too pretty but doesn’t take up much space

Doesn’t it smell and get buggy?

Nope, as long I make sure to add layers of paper or dry leaves occasionally there is no smell at all and the flies are kept to a minimum. If it starts getting buggy I just add a new layer of wet newspaper. The important thing is to use only un-cooked scraps and no meat or processed foods… unless you like rats that is.


One of my army of composting worms

Is it worth the effort?

It’s actually very little work. You don’t even really have to sift it if you don’t want too. I saved myself from buying bags of soil this year.  And I feel better knowing I’m diverting some of my waste from the landfill.  It’s win-win!


My new Bouganvilla is happy growing in my compost

Are you up for the terrace composting challenge? I’d love to hear your success stories!

If you like this, you might like:

Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
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  1. Comment by Gilbert

    Gilbert April 18, 2011 at 16:52

    Cool, nice to see my worms in action. Pass them on.

    I’ve just used up last year’s “crop” of compost on planting potatoes, carrots, peas, lettuce and some rocket.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 18, 2011 at 16:55

      That’s great! I’m doomed with lettuce, it always goes to seed too quickly on me. Our tomatoes are in and I’ll probably pick up some more starter veggies in NL this weekend. I’ll definitely pass on some worms if I can convince anyone else to start 🙂

  2. Comment by Croadie

    Croadie April 18, 2011 at 21:32

    dear Alison, lovely site. We are moving to the heart of Antwerpen this weekend, the worms sound like a great idea i have done them back home in New Zealand.
    Is there any. Place you can guide me towards to get a handful of the right type of worm – tiger worms if i remember rightly?
    Many thanks, Richard (PS my wife found your site I think she is adding it to her blog-roll.)

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 19, 2011 at 09:38

      Thanks Richard! I’m glad you and your wife are enjoying CheeseWeb. Welcome to the community! I’m actually just using ordinary garden variety worms that were passed on by a friend. I’d be glad to share some of mine if you find yourself in Bxl. Otherwise, Gilbert’s advice was just to go to a wooded area and grab a bag full of dead leaves as the worms like to take shelter there and it’s a good base for your compost anyway.

  3. Comment by Croadie

    Croadie April 19, 2011 at 10:41

    Great thanks Alison I’ll have a fumble in the woods!! Richard

  4. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler April 19, 2011 at 22:40

    That looks rather fun! I wonder if P would let us do that in time too.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 20, 2011 at 09:34

      It’s super easy and pretty rewarding to see the end result!

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