Composter without a bin?
November 22, 2009 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I want to compost, but don't have any good options at present. Can I just throw my organic waste into the bushes and let nature do its thing?

For the last few years I've been a reasonably responsible composter, dumping my veggie waste into my neighbour's compost bin. Now I'm living in a small apartment in a smallish town in France, where I don't have room for a bin of my own, and can't find any others to share.

I am, however, on the outskirts of town, with lots of treed and bushy areas nearby. So is there anything environmentally wrong with just dumping my organic waste there?

I'm talking almost entirely about fruit and veggie scraps and coffee grounds. Some citrus, but not much. The temperature here is mild year-round and it seems like this stuff would compost naturally, albeit slowly. The bushy areas in question aren't used recreationally that I'm aware of, and there shouldn't be any issue of creating an eyesore. I'm just one person, and in a week or two I generate a couple of small plastic containers at most. (I recognize this point would collapse under the "if everyone in the world threw two small containers of organic waste into the bushes..." argument, but I think everyone throwing their organic waste into the trash is probably more pressing.)

Some other pertinent info:
- I have talked to people at the town hall, who didn't know of any communal bins, or anyone with a bin to share.
- I have no balcony, so a mini-bin wouldn't really be feasible.
- I've tried vermicomposting in a past apartment and would rather not this time around. (Aside from the trauma of inadvertently killing my last worms, I'm in a small bachelor suite now and have neither the space for a bin, nor a place where the temperature would be to the worms' liking.)

I'm also aware I could take the initiative and see about getting a bin for my apartment building, help green the neighbourhood, etc. I'd like to try this down the road, but for now I just don't have the energy.
posted by nicoleincanada to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What about varmits? It seems like this would be a great way to get lots and lots of rats. I don't think it will ever get the chance to compost, because the rats will eat it and spread what they don't want to eat all over the place.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:24 AM on November 22, 2009

I have talked to people at the town hall, who didn't know of any communal bins, or anyone with a bin to share.

Go back and ask them if you can throw your waste into a bush, they'll know better than anyone on here. This is potentially illegal, and would attract rats. Those are two things that spring to mind, I'm sure town hall would fill you in on the rest.
posted by fire&wings at 10:24 AM on November 22, 2009

Can I just throw my organic waste into the bushes and let nature do its thing?

Stuff will eventually rot away, especially if you add plenty of nitrogen (grass clippings, urine), but it will also attract flies and other vermin, and probably smell quite a bit too. And it will take a while to rot down completely as the heap won't be aerated.
posted by Solomon at 10:44 AM on November 22, 2009

IANACompostExpert, but the dumped scraps might have a better chance of decomposing if you bury it a few inches deep. Then vary the exact spot each time and you might be ok. If there is someplace to buy or acquire worms, you can just add them to that part of the yard and let them do their vermicomposting naturally.

The thing about compost bins that make them decompose is the volume - it's the center of the mass that gets hot and cooks it all up. If you just dump your small bin on top of the soil under the bushes, it will just sit there and slowly decompose while tempting rats.
posted by CathyG at 10:44 AM on November 22, 2009

Can I just throw my organic waste into the bushes...?

That's not how composting really works. You need the right conditions to get appropriate heat & oxygenation, and not attract vermin.

A pricey option might be an indoor composter from Naturemill
posted by gnutron at 11:00 AM on November 22, 2009

Another option might be an outdoor composting system from Gardener's Supply. The least expensive option is the Compost Tumbler. You have to turn it every few days and it's a batch tumbler.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:25 AM on November 22, 2009

What about an indoor composting machine?
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:28 AM on November 22, 2009

Throwing food scrapes out results in anaerobic products such as organic acids, ammonia, and methane, which is a greenhouse gas. None of these are particularly helpful to your garden, especially as all the nitrogen in the scraps goes off into the atmosphere as ammonia. Though you can compost these things anaerobically to get products that are useful to your garden, it is much easier to compost aerobically (the basic composting model that homeowners use).

What everyone above said about vermin is also very true. Throwing your food scraps in the garbage still results in these products, but your municipal waste may have a process to capture methane or burn trash as fuel.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:29 AM on November 22, 2009

Throwing your waste in the bushes is littering, not composting. It can take several months for a banana peel or orange skins to break down. In the mean time, it will attract animals who will scatter it from your carefully hidden spot, and then habitually look in the area for human-provided food, which can be a nuisance. If you dump near a road, those animals have a higher chance of becoming roadkill.

If you want to bury the food, go twelve inches down. Anything less than that will get dug up. However, digging foot-deep trenches in land that isn't yours is another problem. You're bound to disturb roots and injure the surrounding plants.

I'm in a small bachelor suite now and have neither the space for a bin, nor a place where the temperature would be to the worms' liking

My current bin and tray setup is 18" x 12" x 8" and does a good job of keeping up with two people. One nice things about bins is that they self-regulate their temperature--the decomposing creates a little warmth while evaporation cools it down. If you're composting you may find you can get by with a smaller garbage can, which can sit on top of your bin.

You could also compost in a five-gallon bucket* and dump that in the woods once it's decomposed.

*or whatever the French equivalent would be.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:34 AM on November 22, 2009

You should look around your apartment building, perhaps the groundskeeper is or super or whatever has a little closet you could use.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:57 AM on November 22, 2009

Stuff will eventually compost or rot on the ground, but may attract critters and may smell. Get a container, and remove the bottom. Bury it so that @ 3-4 inches is above ground, making sure there's enough space for the lid to be secure. When it's nearly at ground level full, remove the container, cover the compost with 6 inches of dirt, and start over. Or, find someone with pigs.
posted by theora55 at 12:04 PM on November 22, 2009

Indoor worm composting?
posted by caddis at 12:13 PM on November 22, 2009

Thanks, all. Regretfully, I don't have access to any outdoor space of my own, so an outdoor machine/bin is not an option. An indoor machine isn't really within my budget, especially since I'm here temporarily and would have to try to sell it in a few months' time.

For some reason the vermin thing didn't occur to me, and I don't want to contribute to that. So I'll take all of this to heart.

hydrophonic, is your bin/tray set-up for vermicomposting? What I meant with the temperature comment is that I'd normally keep a worm bin in a cooler room like the kitchen, whereas here I'm living in a small room that is my kitchen/dining room/bedroom/etc. I like to keep my space warm in the winter, and recall my last worms tried to flee if things got warmer. Of course, I then killed them, so what do I know.

I should clarify that I do have a decent understanding of the aerobic/anaerobic processes, and wasn't trying to justify littering. I was just hoping someone could tell me if the relatively small volume of veggie waste I produce might be environmentally palatable in a non-urban setting, since my experience is all urban. (All the leaves and bark and wild fruits and berries in those bushes are somehow digested by the earth without too much fuss, right? So says my brain.) It just feels counterintuitive to be consuming local produce in the lovely countryside and then throwing my scraps in the trash. But yeah, vermin.

Anyway, based on all of these suggestions I may just keep trashing the waste instead. But I do appreciate the feedback, and I'll post an update if some sort of breakthrough occurs
posted by nicoleincanada at 12:19 PM on November 22, 2009

theora, interesting idea. Tempting except that this is not land that I own. But have you tried it before, out of curiosity?

Caddis, indoor worm composting = vermicomposting. Good idea but bad personal experiences.

psycho-alchemy, that's a thought, and I'll give it a try. I'm living in a bit of a complicated arrangement here but there is a chance, however slim, that I could eke out some space.
posted by nicoleincanada at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2009

hydrophonic, is your bin/tray set-up for vermicomposting?

Yep. It's in the kitchen, which is usually cool, although the worms have survived summers here where it gets into the 90's. I've never found temperature to be a problem, although I've killed off the worms in other ways--once by trying to use shredded office paper instead of newspaper as bedding. Keeping the bin not too wet and not too dry is the main challenge. The only time I've seen the worms escape is when the moisture wasn't right. the solution seems to be lots and lots of air holes in the bin; adding dry bedding when needed (I just now fed them the bad half of an overripe pineapple, and I laid down a layer of shredded newspaper beforehand); and misting daily when you're starting a fresh batch, when there's not a lot of mass and the bedding dries out quickly.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2009

Do you have a blender? You could try blender composting - puree every few days with water and just pour in trenches around shrubs, covering with leaves and dirt.

You'd really need a separate blender to use for the food you'd eat though.
posted by delladlux at 2:54 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

We don't have a compost bin- we also have a garden. We bury our scraps in our garden. We've been able to harvest self sown potatoes and we had a huge pumpkin vine (that the frost got to, unfortunately) We haven't had any issues with vermin, but yeah, self sowing would be a problem on land that's not yours.

A compost bin kills stuff because it's hot. A blender would also kill seeds, etc.

it's a shame you can't create a stealth compost bin, digging in a (bottomless) container into the ground and camouflaging the lid.
posted by titanium_geek at 3:45 PM on November 22, 2009

(I am interested in composting and gardening, and had fun reading the Related Questions below.)

How about an airtight container that has a tap/faucett at the bottom, and do your own bokashi composting? Basically you ferment your waste first, then bury it. You could use the juice (watered down) to feed your pot plants.

Permaculture forum discussing DIY bokashi
posted by titanium_geek at 4:32 PM on November 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

My uncle had great success with the bokashi system that titanium_geek suggested. It's small and sealed, he kept his in a cupboard under the sink. And you can put the end product on the bushes you were thinking of using for composting.
posted by harriet vane at 6:39 AM on November 23, 2009

Hey all - good ideas, and I hope someone can put them to use. For now I'm still searching for a local composter willing to share their bin. (And you'll be pleased to know I'm not dumping stuff in the bushes.) Bokashi sounds interesting, but at the risk of sounding dumb, wouldn't this produce methane? Granted, a teeny weeny bit of methane, but still.
posted by nicoleincanada at 1:42 PM on December 2, 2009

This FAQ says the methane would be a negligible amount - my guess would be that it'd be far less than you'd get from ordinary decomposition or landfill.
posted by harriet vane at 12:58 AM on December 5, 2009

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