My first lot of kitchen waste composting was a success. I ran into problems with my second lot during Step 3 and found a solution to this stage – a fully sealed Soil Factory. All my kitchen waste goes into a composting bin, and I’ve found one single Raddiwalla in Khargar , who takes almost all kinds of paper, plastic, plastic bags & metal waste. Most only take specific kinds of material and nobody here collects for recycling.
We now have one full bin of dry garbage which goes out once or twice a month without recycling. Read on to know how I chose my method of composting, my failure and finally my success.
Aerobic vs Anaerobic Composting? Which is better
After a bit of research, I decided that the only way to know if I could compost kitchen waste at home, was to try it out. There are 2 types of composting :
- Aerobic composting, where exposure to air is part of the process. My main concern with this, given the quantity of waste my kitchen would generate was that it might attract insects and rats. My compost bins would need to be kept in my balcony/flower bed area as I live in a flat/appartment. Our society is generally rat and insect free and I did not want to risk changing that.
- Anaerobic composting on the other hand, needs fully sealed composting bins with exposure to air restricted only to when they need to be filled or checked. I understand that exposure to air is not good for the microbes that are necessary for anaerobic composting. I felt that this method suited me best and did a lot of checking, before buying my bins.
My first month with anaerobic composting
I looked at a lot of options and chose the Trust Bin – fully sealed bins for anaerobic composting that come with enough Compost maker and Coco-peat for the first month, and easy to follow instructions.
Cooked food waste from our kitchen includes cooked & raw chicken, a few chicken bones & egg-shells. Both the containers are kept next to my kitchen sink, and I keep adding waste to them. I empty them into the compost bin once a day. The containers are covered and there’s no smell at all.
Step 1 : Filling the bin
- I press the waste down, to squeeze out excess moisture and then empty it into the compost bin, adding a layer of starter powder over it. I use more starter than recommended, as I find this keeps the smell down to minimum. The bin is fully sealed and there’s no smell at all once it’s closed.
- There is a very slight smell when the bin is opened, but this goes away within minutes once it’s closed. I imagine that very greasy food with a higher content of non-veg waste would need more starter powder to keep the smell down.
- The bins need to be opened in a well ventilated, open area and should not get rain or direct sunlight. Our bins are in an enclosed flower-bed area/balcony. This seems to be fine for the monsoon season. I’m hoping it’s ok when summer takes the temperature up to 41degreesF.
The first lot of Compost maker (starter powder) comes with the bins when you purchase them. After that, I understand that the first lot of ready compost (kept according to instructions) can be used instead of the starter.
Step 2: Pickling to get a ‘Pre-compost’
Once the bin is full, it needs to be closed and moisture is to be drained from day 3 of the start of this stage, according to instructions. This is the pickling process. It takes 2 weeks. The output is a pre-compost that looks like the original waste, but is changed in it’s physical state.
I was concerned about what would happen if I went on holiday and the water wasn’t drained at this stage. I learned that it’s not a problem. I read that draining of the liquid is not essential to the process, but I think I would not want to leave my bin undrained during wet months. I feel that a once in 5 days draining would be essential, to avoid a risk of excess moisture ruining the process.
The moisture/fertilizer that drained out of my bin smelled a lot. Here’s what I did to neutralise the odour :
- Rather than drain a lot of liquid on one day, I drain a little every day (from day 3 of the pickling onwards).
- I keep a container full of plain water, and drain the liquid into this. This makes it less concentrated and reduces the smell to such an extent that it’s gone in a couple of minutes.
The liquid fertiliser goes into my flower pots. If there’s too much, I just flush it down the toilet. If you pour it down an open drain, make sure to flush it with plenty of water to avoid any residual odour. It’s an amazing drain cleaner for blocked drains!
Step 3: Burying the compost as per instructions
I layered my pre-compost with Coco-peat according to the instructions that came with my bin. This method needs the bin to be covered with newspaper, but open to air. My first batch was fine.
My second lot of compost decomposed well, but I had a problem with flies and had to bury it in an open area. This is the part where you are likely to fail if you have inadequate knowledge.
Here’s what I learned by trial and error, reading articles online, and help from Trustbasket.
- Fly and maggot free composting. Flies are the result of too much moisture. This can happen for a number of reasons :
- If material is not properly drained before composting.
- You forget to gently press down the old layer a little, before adding new material in Step 1. This removes excess air which is better for this anaerobic method, and I feel it also helps with draining the moisture out.
- If you don’t drain moisture accumulated in the base of your bin (Step 2 above).
- If your open area for composting has no sunlight. This was my problem, as our home gets light and heat, but no direct sunlight. All open balcony and flower-bed areas are covered because we have a major problem with pigeons!
- Odourless composting. The Trustbin instructions said to keep the bin open in Step 3, except for a a layer of newspaper covering it and my first batch smelled a lot! I had one relatively odour-free batch, but the others were pretty stinky. I found a solution – a Soil factory. Read more about it below.
- Quicker composting. My compost took more than 3 weeks because I’d forgotten to break up big chunks of fruit and veg before composting. Smaller pieces compost faster.
A ‘Soil Factory’ – the solution to all the problems in Step 3
I wanted a fully sealed method to bury my waste, and discovered the Soil Factory. It requires a fully sealed bin and takes a month for the compost to be converted into soil. Unlike with the Cocopeat method in Step 3 above, the soil cannot be used as a starter for Step 1 of the next batch of bokashu composting as soil has aerobic microbes in it.
I used dry mud that I got from the plant nursery nearby. There are 2 ways to do this.
- A layer of soil : pre-compost : soil in equal quantities
- An inch of soil in the base of the bin, covered by waste mixed evenly with soil.
I’ve tried both methods. Method 1 works best for me. I’ve had enough success with this method that I’m confident it works for the heat, light and moisture conditions at my home. I layer a little dry cocopeat powder before the pre-compost, just to be safe that there’s no moisture problem. I don’t mind that it takes more time than the Coco-peat method. I’m planning on trying the second method with my next lot of compost. Will keep you updated on how it goes.
Composting at home takes understanding and some effort. Find an open area where you can dispose of a failed batch, or pack it in a garbage bag and dispose of it. Be prepared to fail and have to try again, to find a method that suits you best. I like smaller batches of compost as I find a full bin too large to handle. And I really wish I could find bins like the Trustbin, but earthen bins (not plastic), 1/2 the size and fully sealed. Don’t know if that’s possible.
Visit the DIRT store in Bandra West if you want information on aerobic home waste composting for homes and housing societies. Here’s a post about them : DIRT Store Mumbai Recycling & Waste Management by Chuzai Living.
Here’s a playlist with videos on Aerobic composting. I tried this out with a small batch of waste and decided it would not work for me. I wanted a fully sealed method, even if it took longer.
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