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Outdoors or indoors, anyone can make compost. If you don't have a garden, a small space in the garage will do, or on the balcony, or even under the kitchen sink.
Composting your kitchen scraps helps the environment by reducing the amount of garbage you produce, saving landfill space, and gives you a supply of clean organic soil to grow your own healthy vegetables and herbs -- and you don't need a garden for that either (see No ground? Use containers).
There are two ways of doing it:
Aerobic composting, the kind gardeners make: see the other pages in this section to understand what compost is and how to make it. Indoor composting is the same, only on a smaller scale.
Vermicomposting, using red wriggler earthworms -- see Vermicomposting for information on indoor worm composting systems. Don't be put off -- it's clean, nuisance-free and hygienic, and many people do it: worm-compost boxes have even been used as coffee-tables!
This section deals with making aerobic compost indoors.
Composters (including us) advise gardeners to use bins or boxes with a capacity of at least 10 cubic feet: that's equivalent to a 24x24-inch box 30" high, or a 24"-diameter tub 36" high.
These are too big for a household with no garden, and therefore no supply of garden wastes. So what is the minimum bulk?
We've made hot compost in a 10-gallon box rather than 10 cubic feet -- only one-sixth as much. Filled all at once, it got very hot, and was ready in two weeks. It's a bit different when the ingredients come in dribs and drabs instead of all at once, as they do from a kitchen, but you can make successful compost in a small container.
Actually you'll need two containers -- when the first one's full and processing, you start filling the second one, and by the time that's full, the compost in the first one's ready for use and can be emptied out.
A smallish (10-20 gallons) plastic or galvanized iron garbage can with a lid will do. Drill 10 or 12 holes in the bottom with a 3/8-inch bit, find a tray to stand it in, and put a couple of 1/2-inch slats under it for aeration.
A 15x15x15-inch wooden box made of 1/2-inch ply (untreated) will also do well. So will a 20x20x20-inch box. Again, drill holes in the bottom and stand it in a tray with slats under it to allow an air supply, and put a hinged lid on it. Treat it inside and out with vegetable oil.
Filling the bin
Use uncooked fruit and vegetables, no meat, fish, dairy, or oils -- at least at first. Once you're more experienced you can decide this for yourself.
By themselves, kitchen scraps are too wet to compost -- the moisture content averages 85%, and compost should be not more than 65%. So you need dry bedding to mix it with. This can be straw, dead leaves, strips of newspaper (avoid colored inks and glossy paper), cardboard or cartons, sphagnum peat moss, coconut coir, or a mixture. You can also use some sawdust (from non-treated wood) -- mix it with other bedding materials. Keep a bucket of bedding handy by your bin. Also keep a coffee-tin full of ordinary soil next to the bucket, and some wood ash is useful.
First, put a few inches of dry bedding in the bottom of the container. Scatter the daily supply of kitchen scraps on top, and cover the scraps with about the same amount of bedding, or a little more. Scatter some soil on top, and a little lime or wood ash. Keep going until it's full.
Mix the contents up every couple of weeks with a compost poker or compost aerator: buy one, or improvise.
Compost Aerator mixes and aerates your compost -- the two hinged wings fold back to plunge deep into the pile, then open to 7" to churn the material, creating new air passages. From Gardener's Supply Company (Item #31-326):
You shouldn't have any, but if it starts leaking liquid into the tray, use more dry bedding and mix it up with the aerator. If it starts to smell, again, use more dry bedding and give it a good working over with the compost aerator, then more bedding on top and a little more soil.
"Real Dirt: The Composting Guide to Backyard, Balcony & Apartment Composting" by Lorraine Johnson and Mark Cullen, Penguin Books of Canada, 1992, ISBN 0140159614
Whether you live in a house or an apartment, in the city, suburbs, or the country, composting is the ultimate way to achieve a greener garden and contribute to a cleaner planet. For the veteran composter or the absolute beginner, this no-nonsense, inspirational guide ensures successful composting. Lorraine Johnson and Mark Cullen are both seasoned Canadian gardening writers. From Chapters.ca:
Building a square foot garden
Plant spacing guides
No ground? Use containers
When to sow what
Composting for small farms
Small farm resources
Farming with trees
Farming with animals
Pigs for small farms
Poultry for small farms
Aquaculture for small farms
Composting for small farms
Controlling weeds and pests
Small farms library