I haven’t mentioned it before, but I started a compost bin a few months ago and I couldn’t be more jazzed about it. Many people think composting isn’t possible in an apartment building or a rented property, but it totally is, it’s very simple, and odds are, you already have everything you need to start a compost pile right now!
Now, there are two types of compost bin I’ve read you can do, aerobic composting, which I am doing, and vermicomposting. That’s the fancy term for a bin o’ worms. I chose to do aerobic compost for 2 reasons. 1)It’s incredibly low maintenance and 2) I’m not responsible for any wriggly lives.
I also wasn’t sure if the red wrigglers, the worms sold for this, are a native species. I didn’t want to risk them escaping (as unlikely as this sounds) and wiping out the local worm population by overeating, or something else equally damaging, and also, eventually I might end up with too many worms and have to find a home for them. Luckily this probably wouldn’t happen. I’m sure it would be easy, with a simple post on Craigslist or Freecycle, but for right now worms just aren’t in the cards for this project.
If you’re interested, here is the video I watched about it!
Anyway, aerobic composting has worked out great for me so far. Here’s how I do it:
1) I took an unused plastic storage tub and 2 unused lids to use as my compost bin. You can use many different kinds of containers, from old trash bins to the fancy kinds they sell in home & garden stores, but I was happy not to have to buy new plastic or a fancy doodad to do this, and I have several lying around from moving and leftover from minimizing my possessions.
I poked lots of holes all over the sides and bottom of the tub to foster air flow. I started out using a hammer and a nail, but ended up expediting the process by stabbing the tub multiple times with a steel knitting needle. Much faster.
One of the two lids I used as a base/tray. The second lid goes on top. I haven’t had any problems with it leaking, but I am very careful to keep my compost damp but not wet.
2) I lined the first several inches of the bottom of my compost bin with strips of junk mail and other paper. It’s important to keep a specific ratio of carbon based to nitrogen based material in the bin. Otherwise it doesn’t decompose without a noxious smell. The paper is carbon based, and keeps the bin relatively odorless. I swear! Come sniff it!
Just to be honest, I keep my compost bin in my garage, but I realize that not all apartment dwellers have a garage or balcony to use. You should be fine as long as you take precautions and are careful with your bin maintenance, which is very easy to do. My original plan was to keep the bin under the sink next to the trash can. I still think this is a great idea. Justin, not so much.
3) I emptied a bowl of kitchen and garden scraps into my new bin. I keep this old salad bowl on top of my fridge, and empty stuff in it as I go about the day. On a typical day it might get some apple cores, onionskin, garlic, potato peels, anything moldy left in the fridge, and whatever food I’ve managed to drop on the floor that day. When we clean out the ratties’ cage, the bedding goes in too. I promise it doesn’t smell! You can trust me on this, because if it did Justin would never let me keep it going.
BANANA WARNING: some banana peels have fruit fly and gnat eggs on them. I usually don’t buy bananas but occasionally on a Friday Justin will bring home a bunch from work. I discovered very quickly and unpleasantly what a gnatty fly-infested bin is like. Now after I peel a banana I put the peel in the freezer. This eliminates the bug problem before the peels go in the bin. It also may have helped that it cooled down outside (I know, annoying, right? It’s APRIL) and that a spider has taken up residence in a web on the side of the bin. I’m thinking about calling him Mycroft. I’m totally Sherlocked lately.
*Note: For the non-veg, don’t put meat or animal scraps in the compost bin! It will smell very bad/attract verminous type critters. I haven’t had the occasion to put anything dairy in it, because I mostly don’t have that either, but I’ve read it’s not a good idea. Do some Googly research and check out what to do with those things if you have them. Just don’t put them in the compost bin!
4) I topped the food scraps with several more inches of paper scraps, and voila! Done. I try to keep the pile moist, make sure there is enough carbon mixed in, and turn the pile with a spade about once every couple of weeks.
Here you can see the older material at the bottom left, and the newer material, like a Chipotle salad bowl and a shredded up pizza box. This was mid-turn. It looks much better after. Also stuff is supposed to be shredded/cut up. But I’m lazy and I do what I want.
So what do I do with the compost you ask? Well first and foremost, I haven’t had occasion to do anything with it yet. It might be over a year before I have any real compost to speak of. My bin isn’t even full yet, and this is after about three month’s aggressive composting. By “aggressive” I mean everything goes in there. You wouldn’t believe how little trash I produce these days. I haven’t seen a dumpster since I started the bin!
When it IS full, or I have fully decomposed material (meaning I can’t distinguish anything in it) I’ll have some choices.
-I can put in in a separate container just like the first and hoard it for fertilizing my plants.
-I can offer it to friends and relatives with gardens, or up on Craiglist or Freecycle (it would be even better if I had worms, in this case. Worm castings are called “black gold” in the gardening world.)
-I can guerrilla compost! This is the idea I like the best. I can take my compost down to a park or garden somewhere, sneak in, spread my nutrient rich compost all over the place, and sneak out, whispering “You’re welcome” like I’m the Compost Fairy.
It’s really great to feel like I’m really reducing what I’m adding to the waste stream. Hopefully one day it’ll be a waste TRICKLE. Also the smell of compost reminds me of Costa Rica. Never a bad thing!
Rot on, and pura vida!