Simple, Low-Cost Method for Fresh Vegetables: How To Compost in An Apartment

From banana peels, apple cores to coffee grounds, and avocado pits in the back of your fridge, which has turned a funny color, a lot of what we throw in the trash is degradable food waste. These kitchen scraps do not have to go to landfills and can be used to make compost instead.

If you have a backyard, a compost pile is something that is easy to set up, but what about those who live in an apartment?

Anyone can still do it when living in an apartment building, although it will require a more compact method than the traditional backyard compost pile. For apartment living, worm composting, tumblers, or an electric food digester are your best options. You can use the compost you make to feed your own house plants or donate what you don’t need.

It is a great way to save money and get fresh vegetables. It also helps reduce the amount of food waste in landfills. There are many different methods, but they can all be confusing and complicated to beginners. This  guide will teach you how to compost in an apartment so that your first experience with composting is low-cost and straightforward!

What Is Compost?

how to compost in an apartment 2021

What exactly is compost? Although it may look like it, it is not soil but decomposed organic material.

The ground you dig out of your garden has both organics and inorganic matter. Both have many benefits and are necessary for healthy, thriving plants, vegetables, fruits

Since compost is composed entirely of organic matter, you do not plant things directly in it! Instead, we use it as a potting soil enricher. Fertilizer feeds your plants, but compost works on the soil itself, giving your plants the opportunity of a healthier home. 

Farmers use it to improve the moisture retention of their soil and encourage beneficial fungi, worms, and microbes in a thriving ecosystem which is better for your plants overall.

Many people make their own by allowing organic waste to decompose. It could be materials like carrot tops, tea bags, meat, salad greens, rotten fruit, and any other content. Make sure not to add materials like animal waste, plastic, or non-biodegradable trash bags. 

The decomposition process occurs naturally under the right circumstances, and people use different methods to achieve these circumstances. If done correctly, decomposition will turn all of the organic material you add into a dark brown loamy substance. This is compost!

What does composting have to do with Climate Change?

climate change - greenhouse gas

There are so many benefits associated with homemade green solutions like composting -- saving money by offsetting expensive fertilizers, reducing the carbon footprint by re-using organic materials that would otherwise be thrown away.

Composting is a great option to help mitigate the environmental impact of our waste. It turns organic materials into rich environment, making it ideal for gardens and farms, which sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It uses heat and bacteria to break down organic materials, releasing the gases CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

 This not only reduces methane gas emissions to the earth but is also a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Can You Compost If You Live in An Apartment?

composting in an apartment

Some people have this misconception that composting takes up too much space, or they don't have enough free land available. Well, what if you could make your own compost bin right inside your kitchen? 

Decomposition requires two things: time and the right environment.

This means that you need a place with the right conditions where your compost can be left undisturbed to create a finished product. If you have a garden, finding such an area is simple, but what if you live in an apartment.

Apartment dwellers and many of them are not keen on using their balconies for composting.

In a small space, it can be difficult due to the lack of oxygen. This results in anaerobic decomposition, which produces high levels of gas (methane) and low amounts of soil-building  nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. 

To prevent this from happening indoors, the key is you must keep your compost pile moist.

Here are several methods that use closed systems that can be contained in your apartment.

  • It doesn’t smell! This may be a relief for some people. Rotting food scraps may sound like a smelly endeavor, but it should not produce strong smells when done correctly. A slight smell might occur in the beginning depending on what you are composting. 
  • Composting has stages. This process may take over the course of a few weeks. As such, you may need to find a way to store fresh organic kitchen scraps separately while your older compost finishes. 
  • Compost reduces. If you expect that ten pounds of scraps will give you ten pounds of compost, you will be disappointed. The decomposition process causes organic matter to shrink considerably. 

What Are Your Options for Composting in An Apartment?

Now that we have covered the basics of what compost is and confirmed that you could do it, it is time to dive into exactly how. You may be picturing a bucket full of bugs and rotting food waste or a science experiment that requires precision and a chemistry degree.

Fortunately, the apartment compost is neither that messy nor that complicated. Three main methods are accessible in your home.

1. Compost with Worms

composting with worms

What are compost bin worms? Worms are nature’s natural decomposers. You can make a compost bin with composting worms you get from a local bait shop or buy them from a worm supplier. Red wigglers are a popular type of worm for a compost bin.

Vermicomposting is relatively simple. You simply fill a container (either a pre-made worm bin or a DIY) with your worms, food waste, and a source of carbon (wet shredded newspapers are a favorite). The worms break everything down and excrete worm castings!

The best worm bins have multiple levels. Multiple levels give you a place to add your new waste while still harvesting your finished compost.

Pros of worm bin composting

  • The worms will not escape. You may be worried about worms escaping the storage bin and taking over your apartment, but the fact is that worms need compost to survive. They are not going to leave their home to invade your apartment where they would die. 
  • Compact. Vermicomposting requires very little space compared to other options. You can even set it under your kitchen sink. Worms help the breakdown process go faster, which means that there is no extra buildup before your compost is ready to use.
  • The worms do all the work! This type does not require turning.

Cons of worm bin composting

  • If you want your worms to do their job, you have to keep them alive and healthy and maintaining an ideal temperature. Worms are not super picky, but they do not do well in temperatures less than 40 F and higher than 80 F. Even if you have a balcony or other outdoor space, your worms will need to come inside at some point.
  • You have to remove the worms to use the compost. When harvesting your compost, you will need to remove the worms and put them back in your compost bin. There are several tricks to make this easier.
  • Food scraps release a lot of nitrogen, but worms need carbon as well. You will need a source of carbon for your vermicomposting bin to be successful. Items such as shredded paper strips, newspaper, cardboard, or paper towels work well.

DIY Worm Composting Bin

Making your own worm compost bin is both cheap and straightforward. Here is how to create one.

  1. 1
    Find two sealable plastic piles.
  2. 2
    Drill holes in both the top and bottom of each pile. The top holes are for ventilation, and the bottom is for drainage holes. The hole in the middle allow for worm travel between containers.
  3. 3
    Fill the pile a third full with wet paper or newspaper.
  4. 4
    Add your worms and food scraps, and let the worms get to work! Fill up one container at a time so that you have a place to put your fresher scraps while the other bin decomposes.

2. Compost Tumbler for Kitchen Scraps

compost tumbler

How do you compost an apartment without worms?

You can use a tumbler. It works without the worms part, but it requires turning. 

You see, decomposing is a chemical breakdown process that occurs in the middle of your compost piles. To ensure that every part gets decomposed, you have to turn your compost to give the stuff on the outside time in the middle where the breakdown happens.

Tumblers are a contained version of a compost pail that makes turning easier. These containers give you a place to store your compost and come with handles that allow you to turn it without opening the tumbler and digging around. They are also sealed, which prevents messes and keeps the heat in, speeding up the decomposing.

Two-sided tumblers give you a place to store fresh compost and compost that is already well along.

Pros of compost tumblers

  • Tumblers are completely sealed, so you don’t have to worry about a mess or smells.
  • The most significant advantage of a tumbler is that you can quickly turn your compost without resorting to a shovel.
  • Easy to maintain. Since there are no living creatures involved with a tumbler, you do not have to worry about things like temperature and ideal carbon-nitrogen ratios. A tumbler won’t die if you don’t add shredded paper, toilet paper or newspaper.

Cons of compost tumblers

  • Large. Most tumblers are relatively large. Unless your apartment has a balcony, a patio, or some form of outdoor area, you probably will not have room for most tumblers.
  • Expense. Tumblers are very difficult to create since you need a mechanism that can effectively turn your compost. This means you will likely need to purchase a tumbler, and they are more expensive than a worm bin.

3. Electric Kitchen Composter for Food Scraps

Electric Kitchen Composter

What are electric composters? Composting is a natural process, so technically electric composters do not exist. However, an electrical food digester can amount to pretty much the same thing.

You can put any food scraps in these digesters, and it will turn that waste into a usable fertilizer overnight. The main difference is that the material these machines produce is not technically compost, but it is plant food.

Pros of electric kitchen composters

  • Very fast. An electric food digester can turn your scraps into fertilizer in several hours. That is way faster than with worms or a tumbler.
  • Very small. If you don’t have much space, an electrical food composter takes up barely any, making it ideal for small apartments. 
  • Digests almost anything. You can put nearly ANY food scraps in an electrical kitchen composter. Chicken bones and dairy products can become fertilizer with one of these.

CONS OF ELECTRIC KITCHEN COMPOSTERS

  • Expensive. Of our three options, this is the priciest. You can expect one of these to cost several hundred dollars.
  • Uses power. If you are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible or just don’t want to increase your electricity bill, you should keep in mind that an electric composter will require power to work.

What to Use Compost For?

compost for community gardens

Now that you know how you can make compost in your apartment, you may be wondering what to do with it. If you do make it, you want a plan on how to use it! 

Here are three ways you can use the apartment compost:

1. Feeding your Garden

The first and most common use is feeding your houseplants. If you have gardening pots in your apartment, you can mix compost with the potting mix before planting to create a better environment. You can also add a layer of it around the top of already planted plants for added nutrients.

2. Brew Compost Tea

Another option is you can feed your vegetables is by making compost tea. You can make a “tea” by soaking your compost and other ingredients in water. This “tea” is then used to feed your plants. There is a bit more to the exact process than that. There are lots of simple recipes for compost tea you find and try on the internet!

3. Donating It

Maybe you don’t have many houseplants, or perhaps you simply made way too much of it. What can you do if you don’t have plants to feed? Even if you don’t have plants who need your compost, chances are someone does! You can donate it to neighbors, friends, or even a community garden. It is in high demand amongst gardeners, so ask around!

Conclusion

Like you’ve read in this information guide, composting in an apartment is something that may seem like a messy nightmare, but it is pretty doable, and you do not have to be farmers to do it! 

Apartment composting is still one of the greatest ways to reduce your trash production, create excellent free plant food, and donate some back to a community garden!

About the author 

Daniel Buckner

I have been practicing indoor gardening for quite some time now, and I love writing. So why not combine those two passions into one place where I can share my experience with the world and help the other grow fresh and healthy fruits, vegetables, and herbs in their own apartment

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