I Just Started Composting in My Apartment and You Can Too

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©. Margaret Badore

Composting in your apartment (or tiny house) is possible with a bucket and “Compost City.”

I spent this morning with Rebecca Louie, and her travel tote of show worms—red wigglers to be exact. Louie is the author of “Compost City: Practical Composting Know-How for Small-Space Living” and the creator of the Compostess blog.

"Compost City" is an excellent how-to book for anyone who wants to start composting, especially people who live in apartments and might not have a big backyard with ample space for a sprawling compost system. The book is both practical and funny, and is stuffed with DIY projects and anecdotes about urban composting success stories. It also offers step-by-step instructions for a number of different composting techniques, including small-scale systems like vermicompost (hence the worms) and bokashi fermentation.

Rebecca Louie

© Author Rebecca Louie with a worm.

When Louie offered to show me the ropes of bucket composting, I excitedly accepted. I’ve been taking my food scraps to a local compost drop-off for the NYC Compost Project, but I was intrigued by the possibility of creating my own soil for a future windowsill herb garden.

“Nothing will look the same again,” Louie assured me. “You’ll see everything through the lens of its potential to contribute to composting.” Considering how much that describes me now, it's almost shocking that I don't already have a bin of decomposing food scraps.

Louie kindly provided me with a bucket she’d reclaimed from a Potbelly Sandwich Shop and a jar of her own homemade bokashi bran. From reading her book, I was curious about what it would take to get set up with a bucket of wormy friends, but after talking about what I’ll be composting (a lot of juicer shreds, some vegetable peels, coffee grounds and tea), she made a compelling case that going the fermenting route was right for me.

Bokashi is technically a means of fermenting foods, which are then mixed with soil to complete their decomposition transformation. It has several advantages: it’s super low-effort and you can manage a pretty big volume of food scraps (I’ve learned that you don’t want to overfeed worms). But perhaps the biggest plus is that you can compost stuff that other systems can’t handle like bones, meat, dairy, cooked leftovers and even the sad condiments that you’re sure have gone bad in your fridge but don’t want to think about.

Bokashi fermenting uses a special mix called Effective Microorganisms (lactobacillus bacteria, phototrophic bacteria and yeast) and some sort of plant flakes, usually wheat bran. You can buy bokashi flakes, or you can make them yourself—there’s a recipe on The Compostess blog.

Having the Compostess herself as a guide no doubt made the process much easier, but it really was a snap. A layer of bokashi bran and a layer of food straps went into the bottom of my bucket. Then we used a plastic bag to push down on the scraps and cover them.

“The goal is to squish out any air that’s between your kale scraps and to keep it covered from access to the air above,” said Louie. Bokashi works anaerobically, so it’s also important to have an air-tight container. In the coming weeks, I’ll just keep layering bran and scraps in the bucket until it’s full. Then I'll let it sit for a final couple of weeks at least to let the microbes finish their fermentation magic and then it will be ready to be mixed with soil.

So, I’m only really only a few hours into my home fermenting/composting experiment. But you can be sure I'll write updates on the process. Maybe I’ll get some worms too...

“Compost City” is available at local book stores around the country and on Amazon.