Composting Food Waste indoors
Written by Nicki Casley, Bokashi Living Inc
Food waste makes amazing high-quality compost that your garden will love. Better still, did you know that food waste can be composted easily and efficiently indoors? Nicki from Bokashi Living has kindly written this post of Snapshot and Snippets – as you know I am big into Organic Living and Composting. But if you have no outside space what do you do to compost your kitchen waste?
Why compost food waste indoors?
Simply adding kitchen and food waste to your existing outdoor compost pile may cause various problems including fouls smells and unwanted pests. Plus there is the problem of what to do with your supply of food waste during the winter months when most outdoor compost piles are dormant.
Here are our top 5 reasons why composting indoors is becoming many gardeners preferred choose:
- It’s convenient
No more slogging through the snow and mud to get to your compost pile during the cold and wet months of the year. Indoor composting means that your compost bin is close to where your food waste is produced.
- It’s pest free
Attracting rats, flies, raccoons and other pests can be a common problem when composting food waste outdoors. When your food waste is composted indoors it means that this potential food source is kept away from pests and the problem of attracting pests is controlled.
- It’s not seasonal
Most outdoor compost piles become (at best) slow or dormant in the cold winter months. At worst, your pile may become frozen, covered in snow and inaccessible during the winter. By bringing your composting indoors you can continue to compost food waste effectively throughout the year.
- It’s suitable for condos, apartments and small backyards
Composting food waste effectively outdoors needs a convenient space, ideally some distance from yours (and your neighbor’s) houses. Indoor systems make composting available to people living in apartments, condos and in crowded urban environments.
- It’s not as physically demanding
Maintaining a compost pile that can efficiently compost all your kitchen waste can be physically demanding and requires regular work to turn and retain optimum conditions. Indoor systems make composting accessible to people who may not be physically able to, or don’t have the time to, handle an outdoor compost pile.
How to compost indoors
Firstly, don’t get drawn into the trap of thinking that kitchen scrap collection buckets are indoor composters! There are lots of ‘kitchen composter buckets’ on the market that are simply containers to collect your food waste. Some have filters to control odours and flies, but they are all essentially a place to store your food scraps. Any food waste left in them will simply go mouldy, very smelly and will not be of any use in your garden.
How it works
Vermicomposting (or worm composting) is the practice of using worms to convert food waste into fertilizer. The end product of vermicomposting has various polite terms; worm castings, hummus, black gold and tailings. However, whatever you choose to call it, it’s all the same: worm poop. Worm poop is a highly concentrated fertilizer packed full of nutrients ready for use in your garden.
There are four main components of worm composting: worms, worm bin, bedding and food.
Red wigglers, or Eisenia foetida, are considered to be the best composting worms and are by far the most common used for vermicomposting. They are classed as ‘epigeic’ worms and are happy living in highly populated conditions and tend to live in organic material (rather than in soil).
There are various commercial worm bins and lots of information online about making your own worm bin. Worm bins should be opaque (worms like the dark), have more surface area than depth (wide and shallow containers allow better oxygenation of the soil) and have air holes.
Bedding provides a home for the worms and helps to soak up excess moisture. Shredded newspaper, dried leaves, shredded cardboard and straw all make great bedding materials.
Worms need a constant supply of food to thrive; your food waste. Unfortunately not all food waste is created equally when it comes to vermicomposting. Your worms will love the following items and these can be added to your worm composter:
- Vegetable and fruit waste (citrus fruits should only be added in moderation)
- Coffee and tea grounds
- Eggshells (its best to grind these first)
- Starchy materials (rice, bread, pasta etc but only in moderation)
- Bokashi composted food waste (in moderation)
However, the following items should not be added to your worm bin as they can harm the worms:
- Non-biodegradable materials
- Insecticides and other harsh chemicals
- Meat, eggs or dairy products (worms cannot digest meat proteins or lactose)
- Fats, oils and grease
- Excessively salty items
- Citrus (the worms may tolerate moderate amounts but many worm composters choose to keep this out of their worm bins)
- Animal waste
Pros and cons
Worms need to be added to the vermicomposter to establish the composter. However, assuming that the conditions in the bin remain suitable for the worms to survive and breed, there is no need to add any more worms to the vermicomposter.
- The end product is compost that can be used directly in your garden
The worm castings can be used directly from the bin in your garden.
- Fairly limited food waste
As listed above, not all food waste can be added to a vermicomposter. Amongst other things, worms will not process meat, dairy, fats, oils, citrus or large amounts of starchy foods.
- Needs ongoing care
Worms like regular consistent feeding. Long vacations (more than 2 weeks) may need a friend to come and feed the worms and add extra bedding.
- Can smell really bad if overfed
If more food is added than the worms are able to eat, the food waste will putrefy and stink.
How it works
Bokashi composting is the practice of using specially selected microbes (essential microbes or EM) to ferment (or pickle) food waste and quickly and easily convert it into highly productive compost.
Bokashi composting is a simple two-stage process. Firstly, food waste is fermented in a sealed airtight bucket (often called a bokashi bucket) for 2 to 4 weeks. The fermented food waste (or bokashi pre-compost) is then transferred to your garden soil, compost pile or soil factory. Here the soil biota (bugs, worms, microbes etc) can break down the pre-compost in just 2 weeks. The resulting bokashi compost is teeming with nutrients and microbial life. These microbes are the building blocks to healthy productive soils.
In addition, the bokashi fermentation process produces bokashi tea which can be diluted and used as a great fertilizer for plants and lawns.
Bokashi composting has been practised in Japan and neighboring countries for centuries. It is relatively new to many in Europe and North America. However, bokashi composting is rapidly becoming many gardeners preferred choose for composting food waste.
There are four main components for successful bokashi composting; the bokashi bucket, bokashi bran, food waste and an area for the pre-compost.
The bokashi bucket is an airtight container, designed to produce an anaerobic environment for the bokashi microbes to thrive. The bucket has a spigot so that the liquid fertilizer (bokashi tea) can be drained easily. High-quality bokashi buckets with well fitting lids and spigots create the ideal conditions for the bokashi microbes and promote successful bokashi composting.
The bokashi bran is the magic behind the whole process. The bokashi bran is packed full of the essential microbes ready to ferment your food waste. In its dry state, the bokashi microbes are dormant. But once sprinkled on your food waste, the bokashi microbes will quickly multiply and ferment your food waste.
One of the beauties of bokashi composting is that it works on all food waste. Vegetable and fruit scraps, meat, dairy, cooked food, egg shells, and even bones can all be added to your bokashi composter. Some items (such as bones) will take slightly longer to break down but they will eventually compost completely.
Area for pre-compost
You don’t get compost straight out of your bokashi bucket; bokashi composting just doesn’t work like that. To finish the bokashi composting process, the bokashi pre-compost is buried either directly in the garden, in planters and containers, in a compost pile, in a soil factory (basically a large Rubbermaid container to mix the bokashi pre-compost with soil) or fed to a vermicomposting bin; or a combination of all.
Pros and cons
- Fast, easy
Bokashi composting is fast and easy, taking just 4-6 weeks to turn your food waste into compost for your garden.
- All food waste
Unlike many other forms of composting, bokashi composting works on ALL food scraps: cooked foods, dairy, meat, grains, pasta, fruits and veggies, the lot of it.
- No foul odors
Bokashi composting has a non-offensive sweet-pickly odor.
- No pests
Pests are not attracted to the fermented bokashi food waste. All food waste can be added to the bokashi composter without attracting rats, raccoons, flies, and other unwanted visitors.
Need space to bury or store the pre-compost
The fermented food waste (bokashi pre-compost) needs to be buried directly in your garden, planters, compost pile, soil factory or vermicomposter for the final stage of composting.
1-2 tablespoons of bokashi bran is needed each time food waste is added to the bokashi composter. These ongoing costs are relatively low. A one-year supply of bran costs around $45 USD.
Indoor composting machines
How it works
Very recently, new technologies of indoor hot and dehydration composting machines have been developed. There are currently quite a few different models available on the market. However, they seem to come and go fairly regularly. Some models claim to dehydrate, some to hot compost (with or without cultures). They get mixed reviews but one thing they all have in common is a fairly large price tag.
Pros and cons
- Claim to be fast and easy
The claims on these machines are fantastic with some claiming to create usable compost in just 24 hours.
These pieces of kit usually come with a large price tag of upwards of $500.
- New technologies
These indoor composters are new and largely untested. Many people are yet to be convinced of the claims.
If you enjoyed this post read more about Organic living here
- 50 things you can Compost
- 4 reasons to go Organic in the vegetable garden
- Planning your Organic Vegetable Garden
- 10 ways to Save the Environment without breaking the Bank
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