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composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: liponeer ()
Date: October 30, 2008 02:48PM

I live in an apartment in Silicon Valley in California with an area outside with concrete. I want to try to start growing plants there, and I would like to use the large amounts of plant waste that I produce and the leaves that drop on the ground for compost.

How much compost produces how much soil? The book I have doesn't describe actually getting the soil from the compost, except once every 3 months when using worms and dividing a compost box into more boxes. I would think I would have quite a lot of compost after 3 months. Maybe I should limit myself to one or two shipping box sized containers and throw the rest of my plant waste out? What do you think?

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: baltochef ()
Date: November 02, 2008 09:49PM

Well-aged compost that is over a year old made with the slower, traditional Indore method will usually reduce in volume by approximately 50%..This reduction usually takes from between 1.5-2 years to accomplish..

Rapidly made compost usually reduces in volume further than compost made by slower methods as the super active bacteria in the rapid methods consume more of the organic material..Figure a 60-65% reduction using faster methods such as tumblers..

From what I understand,(I've not actually composted using worms), worms will result in a further reduction in volume over faster methods of composting..Like, an approximately 75% reduction in volume..You also get compost tea with most worm composting units..Anyone here that uses vermiculture want to chime in here with their observations??..

Do you have a patio attached to your apartment??..Or a storage unit that accompanies it??..

Because, well-aged, relatively dry compost could be stored in heavy-duty plastic garbage cans as long as you provided some form of ventilation to the container..
Like keeping the lid propped open..Or better yet, drilling a series or 1/2" to 1" holes in the lid & stapling aluminum screening on the inside of the lid to keep insects out..A good stir every month or so should keep the compost aging properly..I would just be sure that the compost was pretty dry (like it crumbles when poked with a finger after squeezing it hard in one's hand) before putting it into the can to store..

This way you could compost all of your vegetative wastes & have plenty of compost come spring..

You might have to fine-tune your methodology over what I have written..That is the beauty of learning as you go with organic gardening..

Good luck!!..

Bruce



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 11/02/2008 09:52PM by baltochef.

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: liponeer ()
Date: November 02, 2008 10:20PM

Thanks! I just got back from trying to gather stuff for composting. I thought I'd try to imitate the instructions in my Rodale's composting book for "composting in a bag", which doesn't use worms. I don't want to subjecting any poor worms to any mistakes I might make, just yet.

I have a patio, the length of two sides of my apartment (the landlord calls it a back yard). It's all cement, with the apartment on one side and a fence on the other. There is a gap in which a plum tree is growing.

Today I bought 2 plastic garbage cans that have lids that can be clasped closed. So, I've put a mixture of potting soil, leaves and chopped up pumpkin and other vegetable waste. Right now it's mostly leaves, but I will add more to try and have about 2 times as much vegetable waste as leaves.

I'm going to keep the lid propped open, as you say, and see how moist it looks after a while before deciding if I should try to poke holes in the cans or not. I can pick the cans up and invert them with the lids clasped, to mix the stuff that is inside. Does that sound like it might work?

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: baltochef ()
Date: November 03, 2008 09:19PM

Composting in a can is the most problematic way to compost..It is so so easy to create an anaerobic situation where there is not sufficient oxygen for the bacteria to break down the organic matter..Believe me you will immediately know if an anaerobic situation arises as it will smell like an outhouse, that is to say like ammonia..

When I was speaking of the can in my above post I was referring to using it ONLY as a storage container for already completed compost..

For indoor composting I would recommend using the worms..Although I myself have never done it, others that I know have with great success..

The other method I might use for indoor composting would be a drum, or tumbler composter..If you did not mind the incredulous stares from family & friends as it sat in a corner of your apartment it would surely do the trick..The smells would be very minimal, no more than from worm composting or garbage sitting in a can for days waiting to be taken out..The only thing you would need would be some means of catching any drips under the tumbler..

If you are thinking of composting on the patio, be advised that when the temperature drops below 35-45 degrees Fahrenheit, the bacteria that do all the work slow down their biological processes tremendously..At temps around freezing the composting process slows down to the point that it effectively stops..This is why farmers & serious gardeners try to get their composting pretty much completed by the onset of cold weather..They then cover the piles or bins so that rain & snow do not leach out the nutrients in the compost over the winter..

Good luck!!..

Bruce

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: liponeer ()
Date: November 04, 2008 04:04AM

Oof... Well, that was my plan, to compost on the patio. It might get down to 35 degrees sometime, but it's not that cold yet. I don't know if I have space for a tumble thingy in doors. I was going to try to simulate the tumbler using the sealable garbage cans, by toppling them over and back every day.

After day 1, they smell already, but then I have too much vegetable stuff and not enough brown stuff, I suspect. I was going to go add shredded paper after typing this.

If this is really a no go, then I'm confused by the other composting options. I don't see how such tiny containers could produce enough soil to be useful for much.

Maybe I'll wait until spring. I feel bad throwing my vegetable waste into the garbage though.

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: baltochef ()
Date: November 04, 2008 03:07PM

You might try putting a tumbler composter (or your cans) on the patio & covering it with several old comforters (2-4) purchased at the Good Will or Salvation Army stores..A waterproof tarp over the comforters would keep everything dry & help the comforters to retain their insulation value..You also might try scrounging some rigid foam building insulation, & put several 1" thick pieces under the cans covered with a piece of 1/4" plywood, or 1/8" paneling to protect the foam from the weight of the can & manipulating it..Keeping the cold out from the concrete patio will be essential for success..

The key to no smell is the balance of green vs. brown material, the moisture content (just barely enough to hold the mixture together as a unit when squeezed tightly in one's hand), & oxygen..If what you are doing know is starting to smell, then add dry material (brown) & turn it several more times per day than you were doing so..In addition, use a stick, your hands, something to stir the mass of material around in order to mix it & oxygenate it..Don
t forget some soil in your cans..It will add bacteria & help keep the smell down, as will ground limestone rock..

Fast compost usually takes between 4-6 weeks to complete..It will be slower during winter..If the can method works you should get between 1-3 batches of finished compost by planting time in Spring..You'll still need additional cans for storing the finished compost..

Good luck, Bruce..

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: frances ()
Date: November 04, 2008 04:00PM

Has anyone tried one of those expensive indoor composting machines? They're about $300-$400, and they claim to avoid all stink, and to fully compost your food scraps over the course of a couple of weeks. They stir, and may also warm the composting material. Obviously composting can be accomplished without such expensive implements, but they look really easy to operate. I have a yard and a successful outdoor composting operation, but it's gotten too cold and nothing will compost again until spring. My bins will be quite full by then.

[www.naturemill.com]

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: Jgunn ()
Date: November 04, 2008 05:44PM

i really dont think you need to spend that much ... a buddy of mine made a simple unit using a bbq roterserie motor and the skewer thingy thta goes with it .. ran it thru the middle of a 5 gal bucket (center of lid strait thru to center of bottom) on its side .. cut a hole in the side for a trap door ..and like balto Bruce says .. holes in it on the side for air .. a tray underneath to catch drips if any ..(he keeps it moist not saturated) each end of the roterserie is propped up in a notched peices of wood ends just up off the floor .. i think there is some kinda of rubber washers of the bucket holes to keep the roterserie in place and thats about that ...

i think all told hit cost him about 15-20 bucks to make .. smiling smiley

heck coem to think of it .. if you could find a smaller bucket .. or a big enough old bbq sitting around .. you could probably take out the racks ..insert a bucket right into it roterserie an all ..and then the compost would be hidden in yer un-bbq tongue sticking out smiley



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/04/2008 05:47PM by Jgunn.

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Re: composting in apartment with no garden
Posted by: frances ()
Date: November 04, 2008 07:24PM

Yeah, there are lots of cheaper options. One of the attractions of the expensive model is a filter on the air leaving the device, so that the compost can breathe, yet the kitchen doesn't smell like rotting fruit. I've never done composting indoors, and I'm not sure I would want to start unless I could be fairly sure that my home wouldn't be made to smell bad.

I've given thought to vermicomposting, which looks attractive and uses simpler technologies, but also looks like more work, so that it might be harder to stick to over time. The argument with vermicomposting seems to be that your food will be broken down by the worms so quickly that it will not have a chance to stink up your living spaces, which at best is probably only mostly-true.

So far, I've been sticking to outdoor composting, which simply means that I maintain a growing collection of frozen food scraps during the winter which eventually begin to compost in the spring. Bin space becomes an issue as spring approaches, as I find that my food scraps lose most of their volume when they do break down.

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