Apartment composting – sounds taboo, but its a real thing!

One of my goals is to offer solutions to becoming independent from the system, no matter how small those solutions may be.

I feel that doing small things add up to big benefits, not just for you and your family, but for our communities and the world! (superhero moment!)

Now that I got you feeling all warm and fuzzy, don’t let living in an apartment or small abode stop you from gaining your independence. There are plenty of things you can do to liberate your lifestyle from the man.

One of those liberating things is to compost your own waste. The thought of needing a huge backyard or having to live on a farm to run a successful compost pile is so passé.

There are quite a few options for apartment composting, even if you don’t have a balcony.

So c’mon, let’s check ‘em out!

First, the Basics of Composting

I highly recommend that you skip on over to my Foolproof Composting Guide to learn the basics. That will give you the general idea of how composting works and the components to create an excellent compost pile. It will be easier to wrap your mind around the concept of composting with the biological processes being understood.

It is a common misconception that composting stinks, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t! If the ratios of proper green matter to brown matter is attained, the process should be technically odor free.

When you compost, it is important to keep your compost free of meats, dairies, and bones. These organic materials do not break down quickly, therefore causing very stinky compost. They can also attract pests like racoons and rats. Breads, grains, and cereals are a grey area. Although these items are green matter, they can attract pests, namely mice.

Your compost pile will require some attention. You will need to mix the pile in order to aerate the middle. Air is an important piece to the composting equation as the microbes need to breathe in order to break down the materials.

If all goes well, you will have rich, dark, fluffy soil that your houseplants or tiny herb garden will love!

Composting on the Balcony

Apartment Composting on the Balcony

Balconies provide lots of fresh air for composting bins

Step 1: Choosing the right container.

You can either choose to purchase a compost tumbler, a premade compost bin, or make a bin yourself. The pre-made containers that you can buy are fairly cheap, but a little DIY spirit can save you the expense and its kind of fun too.

The DIY container you choose will have to be large enough to start the thermal process of composting, but small enough to fit on your balcony.

Typically, the smallest bin you want to use is 3 feet by 3 feet and 3 feet high to maintain the thermal process. However, not many prebuilt containers are to these dimensions, so look for a container that is more or less 85 liters. A 75-liter container should work just fine. You can use a storage bin, plastic garbage can, or even an old cooler. Choosing a dark container works well if your balcony gets sunlight as it will help with the thermal process.

Step 2: Prepping the container. One of the main ingredients of composting is oxygen! Your compost needs to breathe for the microbes to properly break down the organic material. Drill holes in your container about every couple of inches, and that includes the bottom. Liquids need to escape the container to avoid putrefying.

Step 3: You will need to build a base for your bin. The bin needs to be elevated with enough space for some sort of drip pan to catch the liquid. Place your bin atop some bricks or cinder blocks and allow for enough airflow to permeate underneath. You can also use wooden beams if your bin needs more support.

Step 4: Fill your compost bin. You will need to fill the bottom of your bin with fluffy brown matter. What is brown matter? Well, I am glad you asked. Brown matter is high in carbon, decomposes slowly, and is the energy source for the microbes that break down the green materials. Brown matter can be composed of leaves, hay, straw, sawdust,  non-glossy paper, paper towels, tissue, egg shells, woody material, and wood ashes (sparingly). Make sure to break down paper, leaf and woody elements by shredding or mulching them.

A good 6 to 8 inches of brown matter on the bottom of the bin will suffice. Then, fill with green matter (leftover vegetable scraps) as you create the waste. Make sure to add brown matter in the middle to keep airflow going. This is vitally important to keep the microbes happy.

Finally, once you reach the top, you can sprinkle a bit more brown matter to cap it off.

Remember to stop adding new green matter once its full! Your compost needs to incubate in order to break down the material. If you keep adding to it, you will never complete the process.

Step 5: Turn the pile. You will need a pitchfork or compost aerator tool to turn the pile. This is an important step that needs to be started about a week into the process. This will keep the thermal process going and the oxygenated microbes happy.

Notes: If you live in a colder climate, you will need to insulate your bin in the winter. You can do this easily with bubble wrap. The bubble wrap will allow for continual airflow into the container yet help retain its warmth to avoid the pile freezing up.

Check out my Composting in the Winter article for tips to keep your outdoor compost pile going all year long.

Composting Without a Balcony/Apartment Composting

Composting indoors is not as scary as one would think. It is pretty much the same as composting on the balcony, except you do not drill holes into the bottom of your bin. You do need to be more attentive to several factors that you wouldn’t have to worry about with the outdoor version.

Keep an eye on –

Moisture control – Since your bin does not have leakage holes, your compost can get too wet and slimy. This can be controlled by adding more brown matter into the mix. You want your mix to be fluffy and aerated at all times.

The contents you put in it – Smelly green matter can stink up your home, such as onion peels and garlic. Its probably wise to just chuck those. Watery materials like melon rinds or squash could add too much sogginess to your container. Definitely do not add any meat, bone or dairy products to your indoor bin!

The size of the material – you want your contents to break down even faster indoors, so chop or shred your green and brown matter before adding to the pile.

Aeration – turn your pile often to avoid dry spots and especially soggy spots. You need to be turning frequently with a hand shovel or trowel.

Let’s talk about worms! Are worms necessary for balcony and indoor composting? The answer is no, but they speed up the composting process and can break down even more materials.

Worms do take a little more care than just tossing them into the bin – they require paper shavings to be added in regularly, you need to watch how much green matter you place into the bin, and worms also freeze in colder climates for those who are balcony composting in the winter.

If you are having trouble with your balcony or indoor compost pile, you can head over to my Compost Troubleshooting article. 

In conclusion, apartment composting techniques are not just limited to sprawling properties and large backyards. With a little care and proper technique, you can recycle and reuse your green materials no matter how small your abode is.

I hope you have enjoyed my guide and found it useful! If you think it will help out someone you know, please share it with your friends over social media! Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. Have a great day!

– Regina C.


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