Composting is very “on trend” right now and a lot of people are looking at it as a solution to multiple problems.
Composting reduces waste going to landfills, recycles organic materials into soil for the garden, cuts down on greenhouse gasses and fuel used to transport the waste, and can help to stop your kitchen garbage from smelling.
These are all good reasons that you might want to start composting, but what do you do if you are short on space? Can you still compost then?
If you haven’t got a lot of room outdoors, you might be interested in this composting for small spaces (a detailed guide), in which we’re going to cover everything you need to know about composting with minimal room.
If you have no room at all outdoors, we will also discuss a few options which may suit you and keep your organic waste out of landfill sites.
Choose A Site
The first thing to do is select a space. This does not have to be a big space. You should think about whether it is going to be convenient, though.
Firstly, is it easy to access? You are going to be adding scraps to it, and you won’t want to be fighting your way behind tools or garbage cans every time you want to do so.
You are also going to need enough room to stir the compost from time to time, so try to find a space with a little bit of elbow room.
Secondly, is it blocking your path to other things? You don’t want the bin to become an inconvenience.
Thirdly, does it have any soil beneath it? You don’t absolutely have to have bare ground to compost well, but it will make it a lot easier and increase your chances of success.
If you’re going to stand your compost heap on paving slabs, could you lift one up and set the compost bin there?
Other considerations might be whether it gets any sun (compost heaps want to be warm) and whether it is close to somewhere you want to sit (although compost heaps shouldn’t smell bad, you may not want them directly by a favorite lounging spot).
Don’t panic if those criteria sound impossible; they are “nice-to-have” considerations, rather than hard rules you must meet in order to compost
It is possible (though quite a bit of work) to move compost heaps once they’re established, so don’t worry about positioning to the point that you give up entirely.
Choose A Container
Once you’ve chosen your site, you’re going to have to think about the container. What will you put your compost in?
This will depend a bit on your space and also how much waste you think you’re likely to be adding to it.
If you are a large household, you will need a bigger container. Of course, you may not have room for one, in which case, you’ll have to think about how to make your compost process quickly to keep a fast turnaround time.
Get a bit creative about your approach if you’re struggling.
If you haven’t got room for one big compost bin, could you find space for two or three small ones? Might a wormery be a potential option instead?
You don’t need to buy a container for your compost bin; you can compost in almost anything. Pallets, crates, plastic tubs with drilled holes – pretty much anything will work.
Some people don’t bother with any container, but if you have a small space, you will benefit from limiting the spread of your compost in some way.
What Do Composts Need?
Your compost needs four things to operate well, so if you can meet those needs in your space, you have room to compost.
- Nitrogen (found in vegetable scraps, fruit peels, grass/plant clippings, egg shells, hair, etc.)
- Carbon (found in cardboard, paper, twigs, dry leaves, etc.)
- Water (if your bin doesn’t get any rain and you’re only adding dry ingredients, you may need to add a bit of water too)
- Oxygen (aerating your bin by turning it regularly is a great way to speed your compost up and may be necessary if it’s getting too compressed to function well).
If that sounds complicated, don’t panic. Nothing terrible is going to happen if something isn’t available in sufficient quantities.
You will probably notice that instead of your bin smelling sweet and earthy, it smells unpleasant; that’s a sign that your quantities are off.
You will be able to rectify this easily. If your compost is too dry, it will look too dry – add water. If your compost is too wet, it will look too wet – add paper and cardboard to soak up the excess moisture.
Consider installing a lid if your compost doesn’t have one.
If your compost is lacking in oxygen, it will smell bad because the bacteria doing the work will have changed; all you need to do is stir it to add air back into the heap, and you will soon have compost that smells like earth again.
All of this can be done in a very small space, and the only limit you will really hit is that you may produce more waste than your compost can handle. If so, look at the next step.
How Do I Speed My Compost Up?
Compost is great in that it’s low maintenance and you can essentially let it do its own thing. However, it does benefit from having a bit of time spent on it.
Aerating your compost is one of the best ways to make it work faster. This gives the microbes that are breaking the ingredients down plenty of oxygen.
You can aerate your compost by stirring it frequently, and making sure that there are sticks and twigs in it, as these create air pockets.
This has an added benefit: your compost will get warmer.
These bacteria generate heat as they break the organic material down, and you might find your compost gets surprisingly hot.
Good news: hot compost works faster too.
You can even buy hot composters, which are specially designed to trap heat, insulate the compost, and speed the process up considerably.
They carry other benefits as well, but if you’re looking at processing compost fast because you have limited space, you should consider buying or building a hot composter for yourself.
I Really Don’t Have Space Outside
If you can’t compost in the backyard, you do have other options.
Worm bins are a good choice for many people who live in apartments or condos; these can be kept indoors, even under the kitchen sink, and will break down your food waste.
You can give the resulting compost away if you have no use for it (or use it in house plants) and this is a great way to cut down on landfill waste even if you have no garden at all.
You can build a worm bin easily, and they can fit into even small apartments with minimal fuss.
Note that they don’t use garden worms, however, so you will need to source the right kind of worms (sometimes called “tiger worms”) for this method to be effective.
Worm composters need a bit of drainage (usually into a tray underneath) and a starting layer of compost.
There are also some foods that worms won’t process, so you’ll need to do a bit more research into what can and can’t be put into a worm composter.
A healthy worm composter shouldn’t smell bad, so there aren’t any concerns about having one in an apartment as long as you care for them.
Alternatively, bokashi bins are an option you could consider. These “pickle” the food waste instead, and you can include slightly different ingredients in them because they use a different process.
However, bokashi bins don’t break down food entirely, so you will still need to find a disposal method if your local area doesn’t have a food waste scheme in place.
Bokashi food waste can be added to a normal compost bin and will actually help it, so if you know someone else who composts, offer them this waste; they will be glad to take it!
You will need “Bokashi bran” to operate a Bokashi bin, but this is becoming increasingly easy to purchase.
Bokashi bins are conveniently small, so you should be able to stand one in a porch, hallway, utility, etc.
It’s worth noting that bokashi bins do have a very unique smell when you take the lid off, but they are usually sealed and do not smell at all.
Living in a small space does not bar you from composting or finding other ways to recycle your food waste.
There are many ways to ensure even a small compost bin is efficient enough to keep up with a household, and if you only have indoor space available, there are other options that you can turn to.
Keeping your food waste out of landfill makes a big difference to your environmental footprint and is something that everyone should be considering as we look for solutions to some of the climate problems we are facing.
Composting is a lot easier than it may initially sound, and it’s easy to incorporate even into a busy lifestyle.