Indoor Composting Tips and Techniques

Creating incredible compost isn't just for the outdoors. Using the indoor composting information below, we're going to teach you a tonne of helpful hints and indoor-bin building strategies.

Whether you live in a house, or an apartment, the techniques on this page will teach you that composting indoors is fun, easy, and very productive.

Many of you have asked us about winter composting, and we want you to know that all of the information on this page applies to you too. If you're living in a cold Northern climate, like us, you'll have to rely on various in-house composting techniques to get you through the winter.

Before we get started, we want to mention one of the major limitations of indoor compost systems: they are not meant to handle yard waste. Since these systems are usually smaller in size than those used outdoors, you should only use your indoor bin for kitchen waste. This "yard waste" issue, isn't usually a problem because visitors that are most interested in composting indoors don't typically have yards.

Once you've mastered the art of composting indoors, take your gardening skills to the next level - start growing food indoors with one of these Home Garden Systems. We're friends with the owners of the site, and they have over 20 years of experience in industries related to indoor-gardening.

Do you have a story, or question, about composting indoors?

If so, please submit is using this form.

Who Will Do Your Composting?

There are two different approaches to indoor composting, and they are classified by who is doing the composting work.

  1. Composting Worms & Soil Microbes
  2. The first two methods listed below use both worms and microbes to compost your food wastes. Indoor worm composting is one of the most common methods for composting indoors.

    If you are going to use one of these two methods, please remember that there are specific types of worms that are to be used with your indoor worm composting bin. Ordinary earthworms just won't do. You're going to need the infamous Red Wiggler! To purchase a pound or two of these ravenous eaters, please visit our buy worms for composting page. Or if you'd like to learn more about these little guys first, check out our composting worm page.

  3. Just Soil Microbes
  4. The second two methods listed below only use microbes to digest and compost your food scraps. However, the final method does rely on some computer technology, so I guess we could have called this section "Soil Microbes & Artificial Intelligence."

Choose a Method

We suggest you read all four methods listed below, before deciding on which one best suits your particular situation.

Method 1 - Garbage Can Composting

This method of indoor composting relies on the magic of vermiculture, also known as composting worms.

To use this method you must start with three garbage cans. Drill approximately 50 holes into two of them (including the lid). Use the third can to hold your bulking material, or bedding (e.g. saw dust, newspaper, peat moss) mixed with garden soil or compost (inoculates bedding material with soil microbes).

indoor worm composting bin garbage can Fill the first can with your composting worms and approximately 12" of moist bedding mix. Gradually, add kitchen waste by placing it on top of your bedding mix. Cover your food waste with another thin layer of bedding mix. Once the worms have digested most of this food, repeat with more food scraps and bedding. Since red wigglers are surface dwellers, they will feed on your kitchen waste and continue to move upwards in the bin.

Eventually, the first bin will be full. However, this can take quite a long time depending on how much kitchen waste your household produces. Once full, you will transfer the upper 4"-8" of material (including all of your surface-dwelling worms) to the second garbage can. Now, repeat the feeding process using the second bin.

We suggest you let the first worm composting bin sit for another month to allow any remaining worms to finish digesting all of the food scraps. After about a month, you will have 20-30 gallons of worm castings - one of nature's most incredible garden fertilizers.

    Advantages

  • Able to process a large amount of waste
  • Ideal for big "veggie-loving" families
  • Disadvantages

  • Requires more space than other methods
  • Can get messy when transferring worms

Method 2 - Rubbermaid Compost Bin

This method of indoor composting also relies on the magic of vermiculture (i.e. composting worms).

To build this indoor compost bin, all you need is a Rubbermaid storage bin, shredded newspaper, worms, and a little garden soil. We have used bins as small as 12 gallons, and as large as 40 gallons.

To start, drill several holes in each side (and top) of your Rubbermaid bin. Add 6"-16" (depending on size of container) of moist newspaper into your bin. Mix in several handfuls of garden soil or compost. This will help inoculate your bin with a variety of soil microbes, and provide the grit necessary for your worm's digestion. You may need to spray more water over the bedding mixture at this time.

Next, add your composting worms and cover with top of bin. Move your indoor compost bin to its desired location. Allow the worms to adjust to their new environment for a couple hours, before beginning to add food scraps. When it is time to add food wastes, you'll want to make sure you add them in small amounts, and that you remember to bury them beneath 1" of bedding.

After a couple days, you should mix all of the ingredients in the bin. This is also a good time to look for any dry spots in the bedding; if you find any, you'll want to spritz them with water.

Now that your indoor composting bin is set-up, you can start feeding your worms on a routine basis (e.g. every other day). Be sure to vary the location that you bury the food in the bin. We like to move in a circular pattern around our bins. This helps keep the worms moving, and allows you to check for any undigested scraps. If you start to notice a lot of undigested scraps, try one of these troubleshooting tips.

To learn more about harvesting the incredible worm castings from your bin, please visit our main vermicompost page.

    Advantages

  • Great way to learn about indoor worm composting
  • Very easy to build
  • Disadvantages

  • Can't handle a lot of waste
  • Requires some work to harvest worm castings

Method 3 - Anaerobic Composting Bag

indoor compost garbage bag This method of indoor composting relies on anaerobic microbes, a different set of composting microbes then we typically discuss. The term anaerobic means "without oxygen," so anaerobic composting refers to composting without oxygen.

The best thing about this method of indoor composting is that it requires almost no set-up or preparation. To start, you must fill a garbage bag one-third full with soil or cured compost. Fill the next third of the bag with kitchen scraps. Finally, fill the last third of the bag with shredded newspaper, or chopped yard waste. Add enough water to the contents of the bag, so that they are
moist without being soggy. Tie the bag so no air can get in. We usually prefer to take this bag and place it inside of another garbage bag for added strength. Prime the bag's contents by rolling it around, and placing it in a warm location (e.g. a sunny apartment balcony, or garage). If you can't find a warm location, the ingredients will still compost, however, it may take an extra month or so.

To make compost as quickly as possible, you should roll your compost bag at least once per week. If all goes well, you should have "uncured" compost in approximately 6-8 weeks. After 6-8 weeks, we recommend mixing this compost with more garden soil, and allowing it to cure for two weeks before using it as fertilizer.

CAUTION - When first opening your compost bag, you may want to hold your breath; the odor can be offensive to some people.

    Advantages

  • Requires very little space
  • Requires very little maintenance, and attention
  • Disadvantages

  • May produce very offensive odors if not done correctly
  • Can't add more materials once bag is sealed, therefore, you may need more than one bag at a time

Method 4 - Indoor Commercial Composters

There are many commercial composters on the market, however, we will only touch upon two of them: Nature Mill's Plus XE Kitchen Composter and the Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter.

Nature Mill Indoor Composter Nature Mill's Kitchen Composter (image on right) is quite unique in design and function. It uses computer technology to monitor, and maintain, the contents of your composting kitchen waste. Unlike most indoor composting systems, Nature Mill's product can digest dairy, meat, fish, and pet wastes.

In contrast to the Nature Mill product, the Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter does not use any computerized systems. Similar to method 3, the Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter relies on anaerobic composting processes. This system has the potential to hold a fair amount of materials, and rarely produces any offensive odors (thanks to the recommended Bokashi microbe inoculant that is sold with the unit).

We hope to provide you with a thorough review of these two products in the near future, so we don't want to say much more.

    Advantages

  • Aesthetically-pleasing designs
  • Odor-control mechanisms
  • Disadvantages

  • Units can be quite expensive
  • Units may be bulky

Troubleshooting Your Indoor Compost Bin

If you are using an indoor worm composting bin, and it starts to stink, you may be feeding the worms more food than they can properly digest. This can happen for several reasons, including:

  • The temperature inside the bin is too warm or too cold. Solution - Move it to a new location.
  • Your worm population may not be large enough to digest all of the food in the bin. Solution - Reduce the amount of food you are feeding until your worm population has a chance to increase.
  • The worm bin is saturated with moisture. Solution - Drain off any excess moisture, and amend ingredients with dry bedding materials.
  • The contents of your worm bin are too acidic. Solution - Try adding a small amount of calcium (e.g. calcium carbonate, ground egg shells), and minimize the addition of citrus to your bin



Indoor Composting Stories and Questions

Click below to see contributions from other indoor compost junkies...

Indoor Composting for Apartments 
I have been researching the best way to compost inside my apartment. I plan on using the compost for all my future potted plants and vegetables. I am not …

What is the Ideal Composting Worm for Indoor Composting? 
I want to start to compost in my apartment, however, I've read so much information recently, and although it's been helpful, it's also quite confusing. …

Indoor Composting in an Apartment 
I recently moved to an apartment block in a city with no outdoor land/space. There's no communal process for composting, just for recycling. Are there …

Horrible Odor in My Worm Bin 
I started indoor composting about 3 months ago. I use a worm bin and started with a pound of worms. Everything was going really well until about a week …