Urban composting: where to begin?
May 5, 2012 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Urban composting: where to begin?

I've thrown away enough banana peels. I'd like to find a cheap, non-smelly way to compost. I don't have a yard, but I do have a bit of outside space. Where should I start?
posted by morninj to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Bokashi composting

"With bokashi you can turn your food scraps, including meat, fish and dairy, into rich compost. Add your kitchen waste and a handful of bokashi bran to the airtight container and allow the micro-organisms to work their magic. After two weeks the contents can be safely transferred to your compost bin or dug into the garden."
posted by run"monty at 8:44 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

My friends in a condo with no yard do vermicomposting.
posted by MonsieurBon at 9:50 AM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let me caution you that vermicomposting will inevitably have fruit flies or fungus gnats at some point. I keep the container under my kitchen sink in my apartment and have been vermicomposting for over 3 years. I have restarted a few times to try to get rid of the flies but at some point they come back.

I have not done bokashi composting but have heard good things about it. Of the two, I would suggest bokashi.
posted by barnacle fan at 11:38 AM on May 5, 2012

...vermicomposting will inevitably have fruit flies or fungus gnats at some point.

Good point. The friends who do vermicomposting keep their space pretty filthy so I assumed the fruit fly infestation was from their own filth.
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:43 AM on May 5, 2012

Here is what I do when I have fruit fly or (more likely) Black Soldier Fly larva in my vermicomposting bin. I wish I could remember where I read this, but it definitely works-- stop feeding food scraps for a week or two, and substitute with shredded paper or cardboard. Your "good" worms, most likely red wiggler (eisenia fetida) or more rarely European nightcrawlers (eisenia hortensis) can eat paper and survive. The "bad" flies cannot. So a week (more if you are picky) of paper only in your bin will starve out the fruit fly and black soldier fly larva and they will all die. Then you can resume feeding food scraps to your now infestation-free bin.

Worm composting is really easy. You can often scrounge up some worms for free from someone who is already doing it, or harvest red wigglers from a master gardening compost heap or horse stable's dungheap. The only thing you can't do is use a common earthworm-- it needs to be a species that can tolerate the warmer, more nutrient rich environment that will exist in your bin. Most common in North America are the above referenced red wiggler. Other types of worms are used in other parts of the world-- I'll let you guess where Belgian or European nightcrawlers are more common. There is also a species of worm native to New Zealand, but I can't recall its name off the top of my head.

Worm composting is also really forgiving. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but there have been times when I've forgotten to feed them for a while (a long time, really) and they did just fine. They are tough creatures, and it's a pretty stable system once you get it established. There are a ton of websites out there telling you have to make your own bins, or drill holes in a plastic tub (which is what I do). It can be really simple and carefree to get started, and then once you are doing it you feel good, and you always have a sort of low-level entertaining science experiment going on in your kitchen or laundry room or whatever. Tons of people have done this without much effort, and it's fun.

So that's my perspective as someone who was feeling the same as you about three years ago and decided to do something about it. An hour or so to put together the bin, start it up, and five minutes a week to add the food scraps. Then every month or so you get a nice dividend-- lovely worm compost. They call it "black gold". If you don't garden, then give it to a friend that does.

Oh, and those mean black soldier flies? Turns out you base a whole other type of composting system around them, and they are great beneficial partners. But that's a whole other story. If you are just starting out, my advice would be to go with the simpler red wigglers. Good luck!
posted by seasparrow at 5:31 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have had a bokashi bin for about a year. Between the two of us it can take anywhere between 1-4 months to fill, and I have never seen any pests.

If you are not careful the smell is ungodly, and when you drain the liquid you do not want to get any on your hands, but it seems to make a good fertiliser if you have pot plants.

If you have a small apartment I'd recommend keeping it outside, or somewhere that can be easily aired.

We bury ours in the garden, but we have a large yard. If you decide to ditch it in a composter: get a barrel one. It will attrack mice/rats/ants etc.
posted by Mezentian at 6:23 AM on May 6, 2012

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