A few birthdays ago, I was gifted an indoor composting bin by my sister. I was a bit confused at first when I unwrapped it – I was expecting a gift more along the lines of clothing or gift cards, not a plastic tub in which to store vegetable scraps and spent coffee grounds. To be honest, I didn’t know why people composted in the first place. My sister took note of my puzzled look and quickly explained to me that composting was not only good for the environment, but great for gardening (at the time, my husband and I had just planted our first vegetable garden). She gave me a quick tutorial on how to get started, handed me a bag of something that resembled sawdust, and I was left to fend for myself with this curious new contraption.
Fast forward several years later, my compost bin sees plenty of daily action, making it one of my most used birthday gifts. Not bad for something I wasn’t even sure I wanted in the first place. I had always assumed that composting required a huge outdoor bin and involved worms and rotting, smelly food and lots of upkeep. Not so! Having an indoor compost bin is relatively low maintenance, attracts no worms or insects, and shockingly does not stink up your entire kitchen (in fact, if done correctly, it produces no odor at all – I’m continually amazed by this). I’m telling you this because if you cook a lot, and/or drink coffee like it’s your job, you’re likely producing a fair amount of compostable material that can be recycled back into the earth (I recognize the “crunchiness” factor of this post is reaching unprecedented levels – forgive me). Indoor bins are relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, and simple to use. There are several on the market, but I own the All Seasons Indoor Composter* (pictured above) and I’ve been really happy with it and would recommend it to anyone looking for a simple and effective compact bin. (*Since this is the only type of compost bin I have direct experience with, my tips on composting are meant for use with this particular product.)
So, if you’re unsure of why you should be composting in the first place, there are two main benefits. The first is that it lessens the amount of waste that gets sent to landfills – this not only reduces the size of current garbage dumps (which contain a large amount of food/organic material), but also lowers the amount of harmful methane gases that are released into air when our food waste decomposes without oxygen (a result of being buried under large amounts of garbage). The second benefit is that putting your compost back into the earth results in incredibly rich organic matter that does wonders for your soil, which will result in stronger and healthier garden and landscape plants.
Indoor composting is really simple. Once you have a bin, you can start right away. Your compost will most likely be largely composed of your kitchen scraps – this means any and all trimmings/cores/peels/inedible bits of fruits and vegetables that you would otherwise throw away. Re-train yourself to throw them in the compost bin instead. If you eat eggs, you can add egg shells to the bin as well. In addition to your food scraps, coffee grinds/filters and tea leaves/tea bags are all compostable, so into the bin they go! Also compostable: nut shells, dryer lint, and even pet hair. As a side note, it’s recommended that you avoid adding “compostable” cups, forks, and plates to your pile – small indoor compost bins don’t get hot enough to properly break down these materials.
Once you have a layer of compost material that reaches 3-4″, sprinkle a layer of Bokashi (the mysterious sawdust I mentioned earlier) on top – Bokashi speeds up the composting process and keeps odors to a minimum, so it’s a worthwhile investment for your indoor bin. You then can mix the Bokashi into your compost material with a wooden spoon or spatula – once incorporated, close the bin lid tightly until more food scraps are added. As the material in the bin breaks down, it will release liquid that is stored in the bottom of your bin. You’ll need to drain this liquid (referred to as “tea”) every few days. Once diluted with some water, this “tea” is fantastic for your indoor plants or outdoor garden, so don’t throw it away!
If you notice that your compost begins to smell at any point, you may need to add more Bokashi, or improve the ratio of “green” (vegetable/fruit scraps) to “brown” (coffee grounds, nut shells) materials in your bin. There should be about 60% green material and 40% brown material for the optimal balance to minimize odors.
Once the bin is full, you can dig a hole in your yard to bury the compost (choose a spot where you want your soil to be richest) – it takes about 2 weeks to break down in the summer, and 1 month in the winter.