I am doing composting for more than 7 years: 4 years of backyard composting and 3 years of vermicomposting on my patio. (Yep! I live in the apartment now and I still manage to compost). So let me share with you my tips and tricks on how to make composting bin odor-free and hassle-free.
What is composting? At the simplest level, the process of composting is a mix of organic waste, such as fruit & veggie peels and other food scraps, leaves, grass, paper, etc, that is breaking down into humus after a period of months. That ‘humus’ becomes a regular soil and can be used to fertilizer plants.
What can be composted?
Most food scraps, anything made from paper and natural fibers can be composted. Let me give you some examples: fruit peels, veggie scraps, cooked food, coffee grounds, tea leaves, junk mail, newspapers, paper towels, cotton balls, cardboard – just few examples.
Yes! If you are doing in-home composting you want to avoid certain things. For example, meat and diary take longer time to compost + they might attract unwanted guests (rats, ants, raccoons). Some things are not good if you are composting with worms (aka vermicomposter). Worms get sick if you put too much of citrus peel or grease food (or cooking oil).
If your organic waste is collected and sent to industrial composting they might accept all these items, just check what are their rules, since they differ from one facility to another.
What about compostable and biodegradable items?
You probably came across some biodegradable plastic bags or compostable coffee cups. Can you throw them into your composting bin? This is tricky!
First of all, biodegradable doesn’t always mean compostable. Some of the items require to be sent to special facilities where they need to meet certain conditions to actually degrade. Some of those items are actually a sham. Check out this link on how these supposedly biodegradable plastic bags never degraded.
The truly compostable items are usually the ones that are certified. The biggest one here in North America is when it is labeled BPI certified. If it is not certified it is probably not really compostable (just another greenwashing marketing lie)
But even BPI-certified (or any other certified) compostable items usually can’t be composted it home, it takes too much time for it to break down and your composting heap has to have perfect conditions. So those items are good for composting facilities but not for your home composter.
How to make sure you are composting the right way
Lets talk about composting rules.
Technically composting pile requires two basic ingredients:
- Browns – All materials such as dead leaves, newspapers, cardboard, natural fabrics as well as little twigs – anything that can be categorized as “dry” and not fresh anymore.
- Greens – This includes “fresh” materials such as vegetable waste, fruit scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds.
The brown materials provide carbon for your compost and green materials provide nitrogen. If one of the parts is missing your compost pile goes wrong.
For example, if you have too many greens (too much fresh veggie / fruit peels, your compost will be too wet and the odor will appear. By adding more “carbon” (i.e. newspaper, paper towels or cardboard) you can easily fix the problem.
If you have only brown materials your compost might be too dry, not heat up and decomposition will be too slow.
Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. And it is the best if you mix layers of brown and green materials.
The right conditions for you compost bin
Besides the mix of green and brown, your compost pile needs three other important things: air circulation, moisture, and right temperature.
Air. If your compost is not properly aerated – it will start to smell bad. So if you have a backyard composting you either need to regularly turn it or get a compost tumbler, that you can rotate and that is how your compost pile is aerated. In vermicomposting you usually have a layered system with holes for ventilation.
Temperature. The temperature inside your compost pile is usually around 120-170 degrees Fahrenheit or 49-77 degrees Celsius. With this temperature, your composting will happen quickly, basically in a matter of days. The outside temperature will influence what happens inside of your composting. If it is too hot outside your compost time will heat up too and things will start to rot instead of composting. If you have worms inside they might die. If the temperature outside is too low, the process will slow down and basically not decomposition will happen in months.
Moisture. If the compost bin is too dry, no composition will happen. If it is too wet it will start to rot and smell bad. So if you live in a dry climate you might need to water your compost pile if it is just a regular backyard pile. If you use a composting system (like a tumbler or a layered vermicomposter) the system can actually preserve the moisture. As well as those systems take care to remove the access of water (they have a little spout and you can drain what is called “compost tea”. This compost tea is a liquid fertilizer, just dilute it and fertilize your plants or your lawn.
What’s the deal of composting with worms?
Vermicomposting aka worm factory is the easiest and the fastest way to compost at home. Worms eat food scraps and help things to get decomposed faster. In the case of patio or indoor composting worms are actually almost the only way to do it (another one is doing Bokashi method).
I have used a Worm Factory 360 on my patio for almost 3 years and then I switched to indoor vermicomposter Hot Frog. I collect my food scraps during the day and at the end of the day, I throw them into worm composting bin. When one layer is full, you add another layer. While those new layers are being filled with new food waste, lower layers get decokmposted into soil.