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Composting in small spaces

By Jennifer Stern

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Composting in small spaces

By Jennifer Stern

, |

4 min read

We tend to think of compost as a huge heap in an obscure corner of the garden – something that needs to be strenuously turned regularly, and that can generate enough heat to warm bathwater or possibly roast a chicken. Well, that is the traditional method, and it may well be the most biologically efficient way to compost, but there are much neater, smaller, more user-friendly options, some of which can even be used indoors.

No shovel needed – YOLO

Turning compost heaps is hard work, and – let’s face it – they’re not exactly pretty. That’s where the YOLO composter shines. It’s neat, and – because composting is something to be proud of, not something to hide away – it comes in lovely bright colours. You can buy singles, but they are designed to be used in pairs. There are three sizes: most small households would choose the small, the medium is for big families, and the large can work for restaurants. They’re modular, too, so you can, rather than having a medium two-bin system, have a small four-bin system. They are delivered ready to bolt onto the wall, and they are so easy to use. Fill one, tumbling it every day by rotating the drum on its spindle. When the first bin is full, start filling the second, rotating both every day. When the second one is full, the first one will be ready to be emptied. So – and this is really cool – you wheel a wheelbarrow under the bin, open it, tip it, and – hey presto – your compost is in the wheelbarrow, and you start the whole process all over again.

You can put most veggie scraps (including some cooked ones) into the tumblers, but you do need to ensure that you have sufficient ‘brown’ waste, e.g. newspaper, dry leaves, egg cartons. While you can put coffee grounds in YOLOs, it’s not a good idea, as it tends to stain them so they lose the prettiness factor.

These are absolutely rodent-proof.

The worm turns

Worm farms are not new. In fact, most old-fashioned compost heaps are partly worm farms and, if you want to make a worm farm from scratch, you can start with worms from a compost heap. Or get some from a friend with a worm farm, or you can buy a farm ready-staffed with friendly little wrigglers. The beauty of worm farms is that they are small and compact and do not smell, so you can even keep one indoors or on a shady balcony.

Worm farms have their limitations, particularly in terms of what the little critters will eat. They like veggies, they looove coffee, tea and eggshells, and they can handle a tiny bit of carbs, but they don’t like meat, dairy or fat. They don’t like strong flavours like citrus, onion, ginger or pineapple, and they kind of struggle with avos and bananas because they tend to get mouldy before the worms can finish them off.

The best way to feed your worms is by chopping your veggie waste into small pieces (worms have tiny mouths), and freezing and thawing it before putting it in the worm farm is a great idea, as it starts the cellular breakdown process.

You get two products from your worm farm: worm tea, which you can tap or drain from the bottom of the farm, and vermicast, which is – not to put too fine a point on it – worm poo. You get this by emptying out the worm farm and carefully relocating the workers to a new farm, while keeping aside the vermicast, which can then be added to the garden or to potting soil.

Worm farms are pretty hands-on, and they need careful management, so they are not for everyone.

Totally contained – Bokashi

This system is probably the most effective and efficient one for apartment dwellers. It’s totally odour-free, as it is completely sealed and anaerobic, and it can handle a range of cooked and raw foods. It’s powered by a combination of bacteria, yeasts and other microbes that have been inoculated onto a substrate – usually bran (sometimes sawdust).

The system is simple.

You put your waste into the supplied bin, add a layer of Bokashi Bran and seal it, adding layers as you produce kitchen waste. This is different to other composting systems, as it is a fermentation process (similar to making beer or wine), and it produces no heat or methane. The waste goes onto a grating, so that liquid can drain down and be tapped off to be fed to plants. Once the bucket is full, it’s ideal to leave it to ferment further, draining it regularly, while you fill another bucket. The resulting fermented waste is ideal to add to garden soil so, if you do live in an apartment, you will need to donate your beautifully composted waste to someone with a garden – either the body corporate, or some other organisation. In Cape Town, the Oranjezicht City Farm co-ordinates a ‘brigade’ of environmentally conscious city dwellers who contribute their Bokashi-fermented waste to the community garden. That’s a bit of a win-win. The only disadvantage of the Bokashi system is that you have to continue to buy the activated bran, but that’s not a huge price to pay for the incredible convenience.

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