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Four Ways To Compost Indoors

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | January 24, 2008

For those of us without access to backyard, frontyard, or even sideyard space in which to compost our food scraps, there are four ways in which we can participate in this wholesome and environmentally sound pastime from the comfort and safety of our own homes.

You may ask, if we lack yards in which to use our freshly-produced compost, why would we want to compost in the first place? First, composting reduces the amount of solid waste we dump into landfills, and turns that waste into a nutrient-rich soil which is gold for gardens. If we took those same food scraps and put them into sealed plastic garbage bags which then get buried in a landfill, those scraps might very well outlast us– typical landfill piles lack the necessary ingredients (moisture, air, and sunlight) required for decomposition. And sealed plastic garbage bags definitely lack those necessary ingredients. Plus, you know, we’re running out of space in which to dump our garbage. So by composting, we’re lightening our planetary load, and giving a little bit of goodness back to mama earth. Second, family and/or friends with yards will be so happy to get our homemade compost for their gardens! It’s almost like baking them cookies! but not really.

So for my fellow yardless dwellers, I present The Four Indoor Composting Options (there may be more– if I’ve overlooked any please tell me all about it in the comments below):

1. NatureMill Indoor Composter

This is the Queen of indoor composting… I really, really want a NatureMill. This baby automates the whole composting process and eliminates user error to “recycle its weight in waste every 10 days, diverting over two tons of waste from landfills over its life… NatureMill uses 5 kwh / month of energy – or about $0.50/month – less than a garbage truck would burn in diesel fuel to haul the same waste. It is made from recycled and recyclable materials.

On one hand, it seems kind of ridiculous to spend $300+ on a machine which composts food scraps, especially when one can build an outdoor compost pile or indoor vermicomposting bin (see below) for $30 or less. On the other hand, the Naturemill is fully automatic (for someone who has trouble even keeping succulent houseplants alive, this is major), built from “recycled + recyclable polyethylene (stamped with the “5″ triangle recycling symbol…food-grade stainless steel and aluminium internal components”, and draws very little wattage– about the same as a nightlight, and less than it would take to haul away my trash. It can process up to 120 pounds of scraps per month or as little as a pound per day. They even have a model which can compost pet waste! but is not recommended for indoor use, not sure why, but that’s too bad. Also, it produces enough heat to be able to process dairy, meat and fish scraps, which can further reduce the amount of waste that goes into the garbage can.

I’m not quite ready to spend the money on one of these yet, but it’s totally up there on my green wish list (my birthday’s in October, in case you were wondering). Here’s an interview with Russ Cohn, President of Naturemill.

[Image via NatureMill.com]

2. Bokashi

Bokashi bucket composting

Bokashi (Japanese for “fermented organic matter”) is a method of intensive composting“– and it’s supercool– basically, the bokashi (a dry mixture most commonly made from bran, molassas, water and “effective microorganisms (EM)”) ferments your food scraps in an almost odor-free way– the process is reported to smell like apple cider vinegar!

Bokashiman says: “Simply place your kitchen waste in the bucket, sprinkle a small amount of the [bokashi] mixture over the waste, slightly compress and reseal the container. The beneficial microbes immediately go to work to ferment the food scraps, releasing valuable nutrients and enzymes, without the problems of odour, heat or insects. The organic material does not breakdown, it pickles.”

You can purchase a full starter system for between $60-$75 (shop around for different prices), or make your own for free (plus the $10ish cost of the bokashi) by reusing two restuarant-grade nesting plastic buckets, plus lid (you can see the concept here).

The great thing about Bokashi Composting is you can put ANYTHING in it. Now granted, you do not want to add an overt amount of liquids, and paper is a waste. But jellies, condiments, MEAT!!!, dairy, and all food scraps and vegetable waste. Bones aren’t such a good thing but they do break down.” The comments on that post are incredibly helpful, and give good insight into how bokashi works.

The Bokashi method is a great choice because of its small footprint, lack of odor, non-electrical nature, and seeming ease of use– however, the downside is that you have to keep purchasing bokashi (the microorganisms) as you go along (though you can also make your own)– and while it’s not expensive (a $10-$12 bag should last a few months), it will be a lifelong cost. Also, the fermented waste must be transferred to a compost pile or buried into soil in order to finish the process– so factor that into your tiny choosing. And also, it seems like you need to have two bucket-systems working at the same time: one for collecting current scraps/bokashi layers, and the second for letting a full bucket o’ scraps/bokashi ferment for 2-3 weeks before transferring outside. Maybe not the hugest deal, since even two of the buckets take up less space than the Naturemill, but still worth noting.

**Update: See comments below by Al the BokashiMan for tips on finishing your bokashi-fermented product inside!

[Image via Gaiam.com]

3. Vermicomposting

vermicomposting worm bin can o wormsVermicomposting is the most common form of indoor composting: red wriggler worms are contained inside a ventilated bin and used to break down organic matter into rich soil. You can either purchase a ready-made system (including Karina’s choice: The Worm Condo) or DIY your own for a very low cost (plus you get to mail-order worms!). The bin can be small enough to fit underneath your sink and thus take up very little space. Once you overcome the squick factor of the wrigglers, vermicomposting is an incredibly efficient way to produce ready-to-use soil with no use of electricity or costly addititves.

It seems like vermicomposting is supereasy for some folks, and supertricky for others. In order for the worms to thrive and odor to be kept at bay, you need to maintain the proper balance of moisture and food– too much of either and you’ll end up with dried-up twigs where your worms used to be. It may be a bit of a balancing act, but it’s also hands-down the most efficient way to compost indoors. Heck, if Martha and The NY Times reported on vermicomposting, you know it’s a good thing!

If you run into issues with your worms, check out The NYC Compost Project’s troubleshooting guide for ideas. And if you’re still unsure about the potential of worm poop, check out the TerraCycle success story.

[Image via AbundantEarth.com]

4. Let Someone Else Compost For You

Community Garden compostingThis one almost seems like cheating, but since it’s my current composting method I figure it’s valid enough to list here. Collect your kitchen scraps and drop them off at a local community garden, farm, farmers market, co-op, or greenmarket which is set up with a collection program, and they’ll do the actual composting for you. I keep my scraps in a bag in the freezer and drop it off periodically– this delays the decomposition process (no smell!) and also kills any fruit-fly eggs which might be on the scraps (no fruit flies! bad karma?)

Here in NYC, the Lower East Side Ecology Center collects kitchen scraps at the Union Square Greenmarket and at their home base on East 7th Street. Or, find your local community garden and ask if they accept scraps. If you’re outside of NYC just do a few searches and see what’s going on nearby. Also, be sure to check with your collector as to their specific preferences– some are able to accept meat and dairy scraps, and others aren’t.

[Image by Killbox via Creative Commons]

[Top image by Jaako via Creative Commons]

Do you know of any other indoor composting methods?

Topics: Food, Home, Waste | 37 Comments »

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Comment by delqc
2008-01-24 09:20:35

You can also compost with a plain old plastic rubbermaid-type bin with lots of holes drilled in it for circulation. IF you were really fancy, you would drill holes in the bottom of drainage and have two bottoms – the inside one (with holes drilled in it) propped up on wooden blocks or something similar sitting inside a second to catch any liquid run off (compost “tea”). Sure, it doesn’t work as rapidly and can’t process the same amount of stuff as a fancy can-o-worms, but it’s also incredibly cheap to set up and can be made with repurposed materials.

Here’s a picture of mine, which has been in action for a full year now. You can see it’s about the same size as my kitties’ litter box, and fits in a corner of our kitchen.

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-24 13:13:11

Hey delqc! Thanks for the link to your worm bin, it looks so cozy! To tell you the truth, I am just plain scared of vermicomposting, because I would probably kill my worms. I know that for some people it’s really easy and just works right… somehow I think I might not be one of those people. :) But it works well for you, yes?

Comment by delqc
2008-01-31 10:33:42

It works well for me. I had a few rough spots in the first two months, but now it’s very stable and works well. And my plants have a fresh source of healthy compost, so have never been happier!

Honestly it’s not that hard – I’ve gone on vacation for a full month and the worms have looked after themselves… once you figure out the right moisture level (and how to maintain it) it pretty much looks after itself.

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-31 17:07:53

Thanks for the input! I’m so glad you have happy worms. That’s so awesome.

Comment by Roxanna
2009-11-03 12:53:14

This is what I am looking for… something I can use that is not high tech or pricey, to compost the veggie waste from the two of us in our house. I do have one question… does the temperature matter? We might keep ours in our garage, which can get pretty cold in the winter. I understand that once everything gets cooking, it creates its own heat, but to start it, do you need to keep it warm?

Comment by Anthony
2008-01-24 10:52:32

A great post on compost will always attract me like a moth to a flame. This is my first time reading your blog (thanks to my Google Alert for compost) and I really enjoyed your post. I’m looking forward to reading some of your older stuff.

But I’m especially interested in Bokashi as I have just recently heard about it for the first time. Making my own Bokashi is definitely going to be one of my next gardening projects.

Comment by Karina
2008-01-24 13:26:50

I love that you have a google alert for compost, Anthony!

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-24 15:34:40

Hi Anthony! Glad to have you reading along! Keep us posted on your bokashi efforts– I’m really really curious about this method!

Comment by Al
2008-01-24 13:02:08

Hi there,

Thanks for the link! With regard to bokashi, the important thing to remember is when the bucket is full and the product pickled, it has to go into the ground somewhere – into the ground or a compost bin to finish up. It takes about a month to break down, maybe a bit longer in a cooler climate

You can always put your material in a worm bin. They love it and breed like crazy!



Comment by Jenn
2008-01-24 15:39:16

Hi Al! Glad to have you here! So yea, that’s my main concern about the bokashi method… living in an apartment, a bokashi bin would be the perfect composting solution because of it’s small size/lack of odor/ease of use… but, I have no idea how I’d then bury the product, without access to a yard.

So, if I had a worm bin and only fed it the fermented product– would that be enough to keep the worms happy/alive? I’m hesitant to vermicompost, but if it would be as easy as only feeding them the bokashi product, I could handle that! I think.

Comment by Al
2008-01-24 21:44:58

Hi Jenn,

As long as you have enough space in your worm bin for the material generated then it should work fine. Given the size of the buckets from all the suppliers, you might want to add small quantities until your worm bin is working at full capacity.

Here is a link to a website in England that shows a way to finish the bokashi in a container on your balcony: http://www.livingsoil.co.uk/learning/planters.html



Comment by ashlee
2008-09-24 11:27:44

Hi Al,

I’m interested in trying the bokashi/worm bin combination for my apartment. I know for worm bins, in general, things like meat and dairy are not a good idea, but are fine for fermenting with bokashi. Does the bokashi process make these products viable fodder for the worm bin, or should they still be avoided?


Comment by Jenn
2008-09-24 18:07:27

Hey Ashlee! I’d recommend contacting Al the Bokashi Man for all the Bokashi info you’d ever need!

Comment by Frank
2008-01-24 18:44:05

I have a google alert for “vermiculture”, but now I am going to have to add one for “compost”. I currently have a (very easy peasy!) worm bin, but now I want a nature mill! Thanks a lot, Tiny Choices, for inflaming my eco-geeky technology lust! ;-)

Seriously, though, the worm bin thing is super-easy. I can’t keep a Christmas Cactus alive, but my worms are thriving and making little baby worms every day!

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-24 22:53:17

Hi Al! That’s totally cool, thanks for the info! Do you think that that bokashi-finishing method would work indoors? Like, in a closet? Or is there some reason it would need to be outside? Although now that I think about it, the pickled foodstuffs might attract urban indoor buggies… the trays would have to be wrapped really well… hmmmmmmm……

Comment by Al
2008-01-25 04:33:26


I see no reason why it couldn’t work in a closet. Bokashi doesn’t smell like normal food waste, so it is less likely to attract urban indoor buggies. To be sure, what I would do is put my wrapped in plastic buckets/planters inside another larger container with a lid.

After that, you only need to keep the buckets in a warm place – the warmer the better [not above 110F/43C] – to help the bokashi-finishing go faster. The cooler it is, the longer it might take.



Comment by Jenn
2008-01-25 15:29:46

Thanks Al! I updated the post to point folks to your incredibly helpful comments… and I’ll let you know how it goes if I give bokashi a try!

Comment by Aimee
2008-01-25 11:15:04

I did see another kind of composter like the first one you talked about, it was even more expensive though! But I did think the idea was cool.

I really want to try the worms, but am worried that I wouldn’t do it right and I really don’t want to kill them.

Comment by Jenn
2008-01-25 15:28:43

Hi Aimee! There’s another electric composter made by Sharp, which is reported to consume 95w of electricity… which is insane.

And, I share your fears of killing the wormies. Really not sure I could pull it off and keep them alive and healthy… let us know if you try it!

Pingback by Compost
2008-01-30 18:11:10

[...] Four Ways To Compost Indoors [...]

Comment by Jodie
2008-04-06 21:37:21

Hi, I just found your post via another blog that Al pointed me to- I’m doing the bokashi thing indoors in my tiny studio apartment. So far, I’m putting the finished pickled product into a bin (like a Rubbermaid storage bin) with some soil, and then using the soil in planters. It wasn’t completely broken down after a month, but it was quite changed. I don’t have all of the details worked out yet, but this is how it’s going: http://pickyvegan.blogspot.com/search/label/bokashi

Comment by Jenn
2008-04-07 09:14:16

Hey Jodie– thanks so much for sharing your Bokashi experiences! It’s a really fascinating method– but in the end, it’s the last step (of curing the compost) that gets me. I have considered doing what you do (with the large storage container full of soil) but in the end I’m not sure it’s idea– because in the end I’ll have a huge container full of soil and nowhere to put it! Looking forward to reading along with you– keep us posted!

2008-04-08 06:00:36

[...] the game on this one? In any case, it was a change I was glad to see. Though it really did make me wish I had a compost pile going on, so that I’d be able to test the compostibility factor for [...]

2008-04-22 20:04:49

[...] Four Ways To Compost Indoors For those of us without access to backyard, frontyard, or even sideyard space in which to compost our food scraps, there are four ways in which we can participate in this wholesome and environmentally sound pastime from the comfort and safety of our own homes. [...]

2008-04-23 03:30:47

[...] … It’s just tough to compost indoors. Jenn of Tiny Choices wrote a great post about the 4 ways to compost indoors. Guess what: Jenn doesn’t compost [...]

2008-04-24 12:51:33

[...] in this wholesome and environmentally sound pastime from the comfort and safety of our owhttp://tinychoices.com/2008/01/24/four-ways-to-compost-indoors/Mineral & Cattle, Can One Fit All? CattleNetwork.comWhile the cost of minerals escalates as rapidly [...]

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Comment by Bokashi Morgane
2009-09-08 00:08:16

I recently began to use Bokashi, and I’m really happy about it. it is a very good way to compost.

Comment by Bokashi Man
2010-02-18 21:14:50

Bokashi is great! I can’t compost outside since I live in a small apartment on the fifth floor, but thanks to the Bokashi bin I can still compost very easily!

2010-04-13 06:00:21

[...] in 2008, I wrote a blog post discussing four different ways to compost indoors, and mentioned the NatureMill indoor composter as my favorite dream method of composting. I then [...]

Comment by swuiddo
2010-04-21 20:50:07

Thanks for the compost bin review and the NatureMill review. It is good to know that there is a “queen of composting” like the naturemill review is good and people are actually using it. But unfortunately I will have to save up to be able to afford one. Maybe the Naturemill review will come down in price some day and then I can afford one!

2010-11-14 18:51:21

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2011-03-24 23:07:33

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