Most people aren’t aware that composting isn’t just for outdoor gardeners with plenty of space to create a compost pile. Nor is it a nasty, stinky, messy process. Composting is easy and can be done indoors without fear of filling your home with a nasty garbage stench.
There are three basic types of indoor composting: automatic composters, stealth composters, and vermicomposting.
How to Compost Indoors
These three composting types all work in the same basic way. You throw in biological kitchen scraps and they break down into excellent garden soil. The methods the three use to achieve this end are slightly different, but only the middle changes – the beginning and the end are the same. You start with leftovers and kitchen scraps (plus maybe a few newspapers) and you end up with rich compost for garden soil.
Your choice of which method you use will depend on how much you’d like to invest in your composting method (in both time and money) and your ultimate needs for the finished product (compost).
What to Compost Indoors
You can compost just about anything from your kitchen that is scrap material. Egg shells, melon rinds, vegetable scraps, salad leftovers, meat trimmings, paper towels, cooking juices, etc. As much as one third of most household garbage is compostable kitchen scraps and related materials that could have been made into useful soil instead of being sealed up in a land fill.
You should not try to compost bones, human or animal feces (at least not indoors), mixed-material products such as cans made of cardboard-plastic-and tin, etc. In fact, some materials that might make great compost could be a bad idea, such as some newspapers (the ink may contain nasty chemicals), most processed or spray-lined cardboard, and the like.
Most kitchens produce a lot of scraps as you peel vegetables, throw out apple cores, crack egg shells, and otherwise throw out materials not used when cooking. Not to mention the leftovers that seem to sit in the fridge for a week before finally just getting thrown out.
Types of Indoor Composters
The three types of composters mentioned earlier have three different levels of time or investment requirements. We’ll start with the lowest price tag for startup and move to the least time-consuming.
1. DIY Indoor Composters
DIY indoor composting is the cheapest to start doing and probably the most popular. It requires only readily-available materials and time. Most families can set this up in an afternoon at a cost of less than a fast food dinner for two. All that’s required are two strong containers (buckets or similar), one smaller than the other, a knife to make holes in them, and filler material such as sawdust, wood chips, and so forth. This system requires regular maintenance and intervention by the users to keep it going well, so it’s time-intensive. More instructions here (pdf).
2. Worm Composters
Vermicomposting requires a few dollars up front to set up and a little bit of care and maintenance, but is more or less automated and is pretty easy to use. Most of the time requirements are in checking on the worms themselves and rotating the trays to harvest the compost and keep the worms feeding on the new additions. Most systems are around a hundred dollars or so, depending on their complexity and out of box setup.
3. Automated Composters
Automated composters are the most expensive to purchase, but are otherwise almost totally maintenance free. These are the systems usually featured on cooking shows and the like. They look like small trash bins that plug into the wall. Using low levels of heat, these bins speed up the composting process and, depending on their design, kick out composted dirt into an easily removable tray or container for quick access.
Indoor Composting Tips
When you compost, whatever your method, make sure to keep the balance of nitrogen in balance with the amount of carbon materials you’re adding. Your method will require different ratios, but this is the surest way to keep the process moving quickly and keep any possible stench from forming. Worms require little attention in this regard, since they eat the bacteria that causes the smells, but they do require attention to their total nutritional intake.
Want to learn more about indoor composting?
Check out these helpful websites:
Stealth Composting: A PDF from the City of Boston.
Composting from the City of Boston.
Indoor Redworm Composting: A PDF from the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.