Compost Heaven

Make Compost in an Apartment:
Yard-less Home Composting Options

When you say the word "compost" most people picture a big ole pile of yard waste, piled in the back yard, and in fact, for many people this is what home composting is.

But for some people home composting is different--smaller, more confined, more part of the human living space.

If you live in an apartment, or even a home with a small yard or no yard, you need a way to compost which is quick, easy, and compact.  You need a yard-less compost solution.

Generally, yardless home composting can divide into 3 different options:


Bokashi is an anaerobic composting technique developed in Japan by Dr. Teruo Higa.  Dr. Higa came up with a mixture of bacteria and yeast which ferment garbage quickly.  The species live in a symbiotic relationship and work to pickle your kitchen waste.  The entire process takes place in a bucket that fits under your kitchen sink.

When you use a Bokashi home composting system, it is easiest to buy a kit to get started.  You get a special bucket which helps the liquids drain from the fermenting garbage.  This liquid can be used diluted in your garden; it contains millions of the organisms that are found in healthy soil.  You start by adding a sawdust mixture that has been inoculated with the bacteria (called EM for Effective Microorganisms).  Then you alternate kitchen waste and sawdust, pressing the mixture down as it fills the bucket until the bucket is full.

As the bucket fills, you will notice that the food is decomposing.  It doesn't exactly disappear into dirt.  You may see the shapes of the food you added, but it has started decomposing.

When the bucket is full, you have two choices.  You can add the compost directly into the garden, usually by burying it in a shallow trench.  Or you can let it sit another two weeks, until the top layers of food have composted further.  If you opt on this technique, you may need a second bucket to alternate with.

Bokashi Pros:

  • Easy
  • Relatively cheap
  • Compact

Bokashi Cons:

  • You will need some space to bury the Bokashi compost.
  • If you live by a green meter, you will need to find a Bokashi bucket made from recycled plastic.
  • Bokashi uses anaerobic decomposition which produces methane gas.
  • Unless you want to make your own inoculant, you will need to buy more.
  • You will need a source of carbon--sawdust, wood chips, torn newspapers, etc.
  • You may need to cut your kitchen waste into small pieces for it to decompose easily.


NatureMill has developed a composter which uses aerobic decomposition for home composting.  This is an entirely self-contained machine that you plug into the wall.  You add food scraps in the top and 2 weeks later, you empty compost from the bottom bucket.  The machine manages the compost environment for you--it turns the compost, aerates it and heats it to the right temperature.  Those bacteria have never had it so good.  They munch up your banana peels lickety split.

The whole box is designed to fit in a kitchen cabinet--perfect for home composting.

NatureMill Pros:

  • Easy
  • Uses classic aerobic decomposition
  • Very sleek, techno looking
  • The compost is ready to be put in a garden when it comes out and does not need to be buried.
  • This is aerobic decomposition--no methane.
  • Because the NatureMill is hot composting, you can add meat, diary and fish.  You have a much broader range of kitchen waste.

NatureMill Cons:

  • This uses electricity!  The NatureMill is designed to use 5 kwh / month (they claim as much as a typical night light), but there is still something that feels anti-eco about using a plug-in composter.
  • You must position so it can be plugged in.
  • You may need to cut your food into small pieces for it to work.
  • You still need a source of carbon for your compost.  You can buy it or collect it.
  • The machine is a complex collection of parts--who knows what its green footprint is.


Another option for home composting is to buy or make a worm box. Instead of relying on bacteria to decompose your waste, you will let worms do the work.

Worm boxes are available in many styles or it's relatively easy to make one.  You need a box with lots of holes for air circulation and medium for the worms to live in--usually torn up newspaper.  You calculate how many worms you need for the amount of garbage you produce, and add them in.  As you add garbage to the pile, the worms eat and multiply.  In their wake they leave rich, wonderful worm castings which are a wonderful addition to any garden soil.

Vermicomposting Pros:

  • Worms are great fun for kids and they make a great conversation starter.
  • The worm castings can't be beat for garden fertilizer.
  • Once you buy the worms and the box, there is nothing else you need to buy. All you need is kitchen waste and shredded newspapers.
  • No methane off-gassing.
  • You can easily use recycled plastic bins for your worm box

Vermicomposting Cons:

  • Worm boxes take some management.  It takes a while to get the right worm/garbage ratio.  Too many worms and they starve.  Too few and they can't keep up with the garbage.
  • Depending on how much garbage you produce, you may need a big container(s).  The food must be buried deeply to prevent fruit flies and this can make for a big worm box.
  • Harvesting the worm castings is a small project.  There are many techniques, from just throwing the whole thing in the garden, buying more worms and starting over, to encouraging the worms to climb in a big pile scooping them up and putting them in a new box.  In any case, you must plan on what to do when the worms need new digs.
  • If the conditions in the box are not stable, you may get escapees.  Worms will crawl out of the box looking for more food, less crowded surrounds, cooler surroundings or just to take a look around.
  • If you buy a worm bin, you may want to find one of recycled plastic.

Home composting is a little tricky but any of these systems provide a great solution to yard-less composting.  Pick the one which most matches your situation, and start composting your kitchen waste.

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