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how to compost in small spaces

how to compost in small spaces


No garden? No worries. Home composting can be achieved in the teeniest of spaces.

Chucking a compost caddy on your kitchen bench or setting up a balcony worm farm doesn’t exactly feel like a grand save-the-world act. But it can make a huge environmental difference, because food waste dumped in landfill spews forth tonnes of toxic greenhouse gases as it rots, contributing to climate change. Instead, you can turn your scraps into rich fertiliser at home, and send this good stuff back to the soil to grow yet more food. And it’s doable even if you live in the world’s smallest apartment.

If the shoebox you affectionately call home has zero outdoor space, try fermenting your scraps indoors using the bokashi method. It’s less gross than it sounds, promise, and won’t fill your room with icky smells. First up, buy a special bokashi bin, which seals tightly and has a tap at the bottom, plus some powder inoculated with good bacteria known as ‘bokashi bran’ or ‘effective microbes’ (EM). Chuck your scraps in the bucket, sprinkle with EM, squish it all down, and repeat each time you have more food to add. Keep draining off the ‘bokashi tea’ liquid that forms as you go (this nutrient-rich tipple can be used to fertilise houseplants). At the end, your food will look the same – except it’s now pickled, so will break down more speedily when dug into soil. The other benefit? You can put any food into bokashi buckets – even meat – which makes it handy for sharehouses, as you’ll have fewer terse discussions about confusing rules.

These are a touch fiddlier, as worms don’t like to eat certain things, like citrus, onions, dairy and meat. Really, balance and diversity is key. A healthy worm farm can handle the odd bit of yoghurt or onion skin without too much trouble – even vacuum cleaner dust and hair clippings – just don’t go overboard. For newbies, buying a small kit of trays on legs is easiest. (Check your home address on the Compost Revolution website – if your council is signed up, you’ll score a 40 per cent discount on worm farms.) Plonk the farm on your balcony or elsewhere outside, thinking carefully about where the sun falls – worms don’t cope well in extreme heat. You’ll need to add water every now and then, and ‘carbon’ to stop weird smells – things like ripped-up newspaper, old letters, mushroom bags and autumn leaves will do the trick. Over time, your farm will produce an organic fertiliser so rich it’s often called ‘black gold’. That’s actually worm poo, otherwise known as castings. You’ll also get nutritious worm wee, aka the water you've added to the system filtering through all those castings, collecting nutrients as it goes.

Check with your local council – many in Australia now allow the collection of scraps in home green-waste bins. Some even give residents free kitchen caddies and biodegradable bags so it’s easier to collect food in your kitchen before ferrying it outside to the bigger bins, which are emptied by council trucks. Chat to folks in your apartment block and see who’s keen to share an outdoor compost bin. You could pop it on that patch of communal lawn out the back, on your street verge, or go guerrilla and surreptitiously plonk one in the park near your place. When building your compost, a ratio of roughly 60 per cent ‘green’ material (food scraps) to 40 per cent ‘brown’ material (carbon) is ideal.

If none of that seems possible for you, look beyond your own front gate. ShareWaste is a free online platform connecting your food scraps with home gardeners who’ll snap them up for their compost piles or backyard chickens. You might even be able to strike up a barter situation, swapping your veggie peelings, tea leaves and other refuse for freshly laid eggs. (A pretty good deal, really.) You could also look up your local community garden or neighbourhood centre – they often have large systems you can donate to.

In theory, all unwanted food scraps can be returned to the soil: last week's funky dinner leftovers, half-eaten fruit, veggie odds and ends, and even meat, bones, citrus and onions. In practice, it depends on your setup. Bokashi bins and council green bins are an ‘everything goes’ situation. For compost bins and worm farms, most folks avoid adding meat and bones, as it can get smelly quickly or become a home for vermin. A good rule of thumb – much like your own diet – is everything in moderation. A few lemons a week is fine. Juicing a whole bag of oranges each day? That’s probably going to upset your small system.

Obviously, non-biodegradable stuff is a big no-no – and be extra-careful to remove fruit stickers, envelope windows, sticky tape on wrapping paper and other pesky small bits of plastic.

You’ll get different outputs depending on your setup. Both bokashi tea and worm wee are potent natural fertilisers and great for indoor plants. Just dilute with water and spray over the soil and both sides of the leaves. (And if you have too much, undiluted bokashi tea makes a mean drain cleaner.)

Compost produces rich soil, perfect for growing veggies, while bokashi makes pickled food that needs to be dug into the ground, where it will break down quickly and feed the soil food web (i.e. all the microorganisms living in the dirt). So connect with a local gardener happy to take your output – or start enriching the soil on your nature strip and see what springs up in response.

Whichever system you choose, you’ll be turning unwanted waste into nutritious organic plant food, and sparing the atmosphere while you’re at it. Kudos to you!

This helpful guide comes straight from the pages of frankie 101. Head here to find your closest stockist, pick up a copy from our online store or subscribe from $59.50.