Discover 5 cheap and easy solutions for small-space composting, whether you live in an apartment, condo, or tiny home.
Whether you live in an apartment, condo, or tiny house, here are some easy and practical ways to combat your small-space composting dilemma.
Growing your own food is important to your overall health, as well as the planet’s. You want to do as much as you can, but you live in an apartment or condo with rules about what you can and cannot do on your balcony or patio. You barely have enough room to grow anything, much less to have some sort of compost pile.
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As a small-space composter, you’re probably looking for composting solutions that can accomplish a number of things:
- Works in a Small Space: You barely have enough room for growing your own food. Where in the world are you going to put a compost bin?
- Easy to Set Up and Use: A compost pile is daunting. You want the composting solution to be easy to set up and easy to use.
- Won’t Attract Bugs: There is nothing worse than bugs in a small space. No bugs in the compost bin!
- Works as Quickly as Possible: Do you want to use the compost as soon as possible? There are solutions for that, too!
Small-Space Composting Solutions
There are many solutions for your small-space composting. It all depends on what is important to you from the above list. What is your priority?
Here are some solutions to consider:
The easiest way to compost indoors cheaply, easily, and quickly is to use a worm bin. Vermiculture (or worm composting) produces worm castings that make worm tea—perfect for feeding the soil of your container plants.
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Plastic Storage Bins
Plastic storage bins are an excellent choice because they’re fairly inexpensive and easy to find. They come in a variety of sizes so that you can get the right size bin for your space. Ten to 18 gallons is a good size. You can even stack the bins to save space. Make sure you drill aeration holes near the top to allow air into your bin.
Another option that is very inexpensive and stackable. You can find 5-gallon buckets with lids at home centers and big-box stores, and you can often find them for free at bakeries and the like. Large plastic kitty litter containers work great, too! Be sure to drill aeration holes near the top of the bucket or container.
Old wooden boxes or wine crates can be turned into an indoor composter. Add a plastic bag stapled to the inside and cover with a hinged lid or painters’ canvas.
Bokashi (Japanese Term Meaning “Fermented Organic Matter”)
The Bokashi method is easy and composts everything—from kitchen scraps to meat and dairy. You mix an inoculated bran filled with microbes into the Bokashi bucket and tightly cover it. When the bucket is full, seal it shut and set it to the side for 10 to 12 days. Every other day, drain the bucket (which also makes a nice compost tea). You’ll have pre-compost, which can be put in worm bins or left for a month to break down further.
Where Do You Put a Compost Bin?
- Under the sink
- Under a plant stand
- In a hall closet
- Out in the open (It’s a great conversation starter!)
How Much Do You Put In?
Two types of material make composting work. They are nitrogen materials—such as food scraps and grass clippings—and carbon materials—such as leaves, shredded paper, and corrugated cardboard.
What to Put in Your Compost Bin:
- Fruit and veggie scraps
- Coffee grounds
- Tea bags (If the bag is slippery, don’t put it in your compost)
- Shredded paper
- Trimmings from houseplants
- Hair (yours and your pets)
- Toilet paper rolls torn into small pieces
- Dryer lint
What Not to Put in Your Bin:
An indoor compost bin doesn’t heat up as much as a hot outdoor bin, so there is less microbial action happening (except for when you’re using the Bokashi method). This means that the kitchen scraps won’t break down very quickly, especially if you add in:
- Large chunks of anything
It’s also probably a good idea to avoid composting very smelly items, such as onion peels. You may smell it in the rest of your house. Try to avoid watery items, such as melons or squash. They might make your bin too soggy.
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Tips for Success
If you want to be successful with indoor composting, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Have shredded paper or dry leaves handy. Every time you add food scraps or coffee grounds, plop in a handful of the shredded paper or leaves. This will keep your bin from getting too wet. Note: Junk mail works perfectly for this purpose as long as it is not the slick-coated advertisements.
- The contents of your bin need to be turned often. Turning the contents of your bin warms it up and makes microbes very happy. It also mixes the contents, so they don’t get too wet or too dry. Move everything around with a hand trowel. An advantage to the round bucket method is that you can roll it back and forth a few times to mix it.
- No matter what kind of bin you have, add small pieces. Pulp from your juicer will break down much faster than chunks of vegetables. Chop up your food scraps or put them through a blender, and be sure to shred your paper or cardboard.
It is possible to compost in small spaces, such as apartments, condos, or tiny houses. After a while, you’ll get a feel for what works and what doesn’t with your chosen composting method. It will be a great feeling to know that you’re saving waste from the landfill and making compost for your container garden.
What Do You Think?
What is your favorite composting method? Let us know in the comments!
This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on September 9, 2017. The author may not currently be available to respond to comments, however we encourage our Community members to chime in to share their experiences and answer questions!
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I am wondering where to get the bokashi inoculant? And can a scoop of the finished compost then become an starter for the next batch?
Thanks for the tips
TeraGanix sells EM-1 inoculant.
Azure carries it. If you are not familiar with them I highly recommend checking them out. I order from them monthly. They have a lot of food and products I can’t find locally and really good prices on a ton of stuff.
To address your question about using finished compost as a starter for the next batch. Yes you can. Compost and bokashi ferments are alive, but the amount of active life (microorganisms, bacteria, etc) inside varies and changes as it ages and matures (usually drops off once finished, so you might get a better starter out of some compost still in an active phase. I have always added some of my best soil and compost to my fresh/new compost piles. It doesn’t cost anything and can’t hurt. The bokashi you buy is good if you want to experiment and possibly try something new like a ferment that can handle meat scraps and stuff you might normally not add to your traditional compost pile, and it may add some diversity to your local compost biome. I don’t think it is necessary, but if you like to play, then it can be a fun experiment to play around with. While I have yet to purchase bokashi, I have thought about getting some and running some side by side comparison trials and adding it to ferments and teas, manure, fish scraps, etc just to play with. I don’t personally know anyone that has played with it, but it’s not too terribly expensive and could be fun, interesting, or entertaining.
Is scrap computer paper (shredded) with printing inks on it OK to add?, as I have a LOT of that.
Also, I am interested in the answer to Ruby’s questions.
Some people say no citrus, which is such a waste cause I use a lot of lemons. What do you think?
Oh do include the citrus. I too have heard no citrus, but I don’t buy it. I read about a place where a juice producer dumped its citrus wastes on bare land; it was marked and left alone for 15 years. When they went looking for it, they couldn’t find the marker. The plant diversity was MUCH larger than the surrounding area where the citrus wastes had been dumped — it was an extremely healthy forest.
oh boy are you setting yourself up for the swarms of fruitflies… with those holes not being closeable…. we always line our buckets with plastic bags — grocery store produce bags for the 1 gal kitchen offal bucket, and ordinary kitchen 13gal plastic bags to line the compost buckets (toilette portative to you rotfl)…… then when fruitflies’ season hits and you’ve been not unalert to recognizing the ‘seeds’ then you simply cinch the bags up, set aside for subsequent bin use, and start fresh… cheap, yeah, and headache free…. if you still want the holes, put them in the lid where they won’t interfere with the vitally needed closeable bags.. ttyl
Good idea! Fruit flies are a problem for my compost bin. And my compost is too wet. Thanks!
I’m not keen on the idea of composting in plastic bags and compost needs air… As far as fruit flies or any flies for that matter (and I know this may be contradictory to most who need small space composting), but chickens or guinea hens can turn that problem into eggs and/or meat. A lot of city folks are doing backyard chickens now days, and flies are free bird food that is very nutritious (and entertaining to watch).
I refuse to compost in plastic as it will leach the bpa (and other toxins) into my otherwise healthy brew. Plus without air it’s not gonna break down properly. A Fruit fly trap beside the bucket does it for me: in a small bowl pour about a third cup apple cider vinegar, add 3-4 drops of commercial dish soap, stir and watch the fruit flies go for it over the next few days. Make a new batch every couple weeks.
This compendium is one I would share with others. What are your considerations on this. By the way as one trained in horticulture at MD University I can appreciate the value of what you share. Please keep me posted. <<< Wm Stanley
Hi Wm. Please do share! The more everyone knows about growing food and medicine and stopping the destruction of the Earth, the better! We only ask that you credit us as the source. 🙂
My mom kept a metal can under her kitchen sink with a paper grocery bag in it. When it got full, she would dig a hole near a plant (usually a rose bush) and bury the bag in the hole. She had some beautiful roses, even in a yard that didn’t get much sun.
These are GREAT suggestions! We have purchased two very expensive barrel type on stand composers and in our weather they last about 2 years. That comes out to about $75 per year for these things! I’m going to switch to a garbage pail to do the job because my garden can not exist without compost! My favorite part of composting besides the obvious boost nutritionally, is that some seeds come up voluntarily! I get the BEST tomatoes and kobucha squash this way.
These suggestions look great! My fave is the Japanese method, and I may try it at some point.
Plastic in my opinion is a bad choice in general, leaching endocrine disruptors etc, let alone adding dryer lint which pulls off polyester lints adding to the micro plastics problem.
Putting this into the soil will ultimately return to you through the food you eat from your garden.
I’m new to composting, so here are 2 questions – 1) How do I know when my compost is ready? 1) Do I use it with whole leaves or eggshells intact, or sift it out? I do not use large chunks in general but don’t have a leaf shredder.
Amy not knowing what type of composting you are doing it’s a little hard to pinpoint a good answer but I ll try.
As far as knowing when your compost is ready , It should look like a black fluffy soil. It is OK to have large pieces left within the mix because you will normally sift those out with a compost sifter.
To answer the second part of this question about leaves and eggshells.
Just try to break them up the best you can into smaller pieces and this will help speed up the composting process.
Either way compost happens over time , It just depends on how long you are willing to wait to use your new black gold!
I hope this helps…
Does anyone have the 3 ‘recipes’ for composting in 5 gal. buckets Marjorie gave us on the last summit? I took notes but didn’t get the details🥰🤗😀
Does anyone have a recipe for homemade inoculated bran for Bokashi composting?