One day we’ll have our dream house, but for now, we have no land. In fact, the only outdoor space that’s really “ours” is a 6’x9′ patio and a little strip of mulched “flower bed” area where we have some of our container garden plants located.
We were a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to have a compost bin since we moved in. In fact, we can’t even have a compost tumbler since there’s such a limited amount of space — but that’s not stopping us from composting!
What is Composting?
If you’re an avid gardener, you probably already know what composting is. But for those that may be new to the game, let’s discuss.
First, we need to answer the question “What is Compost?“.
Basically, compost is organic matter that has decomposed into a rich soil amendment. It is a host to beneficial organisms that help to further break down newly introduced organic material so that it is readily available to your plants when they need them.
So then, “What is Composting?” It is the natural process of recycling leaves, grass clippings, coffee grounds, eggshells, vegetable scraps and other organic material.
If you’re going totally organic in your garden, be sure you’re not composting any veggies that are not classified as “organic”, and be sure you’re not adding any plant material that has been treated with chemicals (like grass clippings from lawns that have been sprayed for weeds).
You can learn how to build a compost bin with a quick Google search, then read more about composting in these articles also found on Survival at Home:
- The Dirty Truth About Composting
- 3 Compost Techniques Everyone Should Know
- 14+ Must-Read Composting Tips for Beginners
Now, onto the meat of the matter: How to Make Compost in an Apartment!
Kitchen Compost Bin for Apartment Dwellers
After recently posting something to my Instagram account about dehydrating veggie scraps (which we’ll get to later in the article), I was told I could use a kitchen compost bin (like this stainless steel one or this cheaper plastic one (that also has biodegradable liners)).
The truth is, those kitchen bins are meant to hold scraps until you can get them to your compost pile outside. They have charcoal filters to reduce any odor — which should be your first clue that you’re not actually composting the scraps (since compost — when done right — has little to no odor).
Plus, if you were actually composting in that little bin, wouldn’t the liners be a detriment to the “pile” since it would tend to absorb the moisture (which is a necessary ingredient to composting)?
I do want to make clear here that I am not opposed to these kitchen compost bins — just that they’re more of a “kitchen food scraps saver until you can get them to the compost pile” bin. Nothing at all wrong with them other than they’re mislabeled.
- DIY Compost Pail from Mandi at Our Life Out Here
- Easy Compost from Donna at Gardens and Chickens and Worms
Vermicomposting in an Apartment
So the kitchen compost bin myth has been dispelled. What other options are there? You could do a vermicompost worm bin!
What’s vermicomposting? According to the North Carolina State University and NC A&T State University Cooperative Extension’s website:
Vermicomposting is a process that relies on earthworms and microorganisms to help stabilize active organic materials and convert them to a valuable soil amendment and source of plant nutrients.
Basically, you take some red worms (or some other breed of compost worms), let them eat your scraps (the organic materials) and they emit castings (the “valuable soil amendment”).
Worm poop. That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s the end goal of a vermicompost bin. Worm poop.
My buddy Jess wrote this article about vermicomposting as a way to continue to make compost in the winter. What a great idea!
You can watch the video below from RyanIsHungry to learn how to make your own DIY vermicomposting bin. We may eventually go this route if we’re in this apartment much longer.
So how do you harvest the castings? Well, you could build a “flow-through” bin which allows you to harvest the castings directly from the bottom of the bin. You can find lots of great ideas for that at Vermicomposters.com.
If you want to just go the “easy route” with your bin, CaliKim shows you how to harvest castings from that type of worm bin:
- The Lazy Gardener’s Way to Make Fertilizer by Amy of Tenth Acre Farm.
How I Make Compost in Our Apartment
I’m really looking forward to venturing into vermicomposting, but for now, I’m composting a totally different way. I’m calling it “dehydrated mulch composting“, and you’re about to understand why.
When we make our meals with fresh, organic vegetables, there are always some form of scraps. Celery ends, carrot ends and peels, sweet potato peels, onion ends — you get the drift. We had been either trashing them, or putting them down the garbage disposal, but I started feeling sick over all the waste.
We decided to do with them just what we had been doing with the banana peels I’ve talked about in another article.
When we have scraps, they go into the food processor (have I told you lately how much I love our Hamilton Beach?!) to get chopped into tiny pieces. Then, they go into a gallon-sized pitcher and are just covered with water. The shredded scraps steep in the water until the pitcher is completely full, and then they sit for another 12-24 hours to steep.
Since the jug is full, once we’re ready to add more scraps, we have to strain the liquid off using my handy-dandy wire mesh strainer. That liquid makes an awesome compost tea — it’s rich in organic nutrients that have leeched out from the veggies. That compost tea goes to water the container garden we have out on the patio. (Read more about getting started with container gardening.)
Dehydrated Mulch Compost
Now I take the veggie scraps and put them into the dehydrator. (I’d love to have an Excalibur dehydrator like this one someday, but for now, my Nesco American Harvest is working just fine.) I typically let them dehydrate about 12-14 hours — usually overnight so the heat doesn’t make the apartment too hot through the day (particularly during the summer). When the scraps are thoroughly dry, they get one more spin in the food processor to make them as fine as possible.
The dried scraps get saved up in a gallon-sized freezer bag — along with dry, used coffee grounds, dry, used tea bags, and ground-up eggshells — until it is full. Then, they get spread around plants like a layer of mulch. As the plants get watered (manually, or when it rains), the water helps feed the plants through the dehydrated mulch compost.
Waste Not, Want Not
I was really tired of knowing we were wasting all that nutritious goodness by just throwing all the scraps away. Now, with our new methods of making compost tea and dehydrated mulch compost, we’re saving it all to put back into the container garden as an organic fertilizer!