I first started composing my kitchen waste using the anaerobic method. I did this for a year, and later switched to smaller lots of composting using the aerobic method.
In this post, I talk about my current method of composting, why I switched to it, and the process of anaerobic composting I followed during my first year of composting. Plus some links on composting methods.
Aerobic Composting for small lots of compost – my current method
- An open bin or medium sized flower pot.
- It can be covered with a metal mesh or a lid which lets air into the pot. This also keeps flies and maggots in the pot (I don’t know what happens to them there), so that the whole process is fly free.
- A layer of mud should fill the base of the pot. I like at least 3 inches of mud. This absorbs excess moisture that drains into the base of the pot, so that there’s no liquid draining from the bin.
- Layer of compost-mixed-with-mud, and then covered with a layer of mud.
- Keep the mud slightly damp, and stir the layers once in a way (I do this once a week or not at all), so they get exposure to air.
Why I switched from anaerobic to aerobic composting
Well, composting anaerobically needs about 5 minutes daily, which is quite comfortable. It produced a lot of really good compost.
My difficulty with this was :
- That I was unable to organise disposing the ready compost in a way that was easy and effortless. And our housekeeping staff ended up putting it in the garbage, which really made no sense to me.
- A soil factory was the only way I could keep this odourless and this meant my bins were quite heavy.
A year of anaerobic composting had taught me three things that made me switch :
One : I was better off composting just enough for my garden, so I no longer needed to by fertiliser or khath from the plant nursery, and aerobic composting.
Two : Aerobic composting with small lots just needed 5 minutes to set a pot, and I could forget about it after that, except for watering it occasionally. This suited me fine!
Three : I was shocked at the amount of plastic grocery shopping produced and I decided it was more important for the environment that I use the limited time to make an effort to purchase with less plastic.
The rest of this post contains what I wrote during my year with anaerobic composting. Scroll to the end for links to different methods of composing. . .
Anaerobic composting needs :
- Fully sealed plastic composting bins.
- Exposure to air restricted 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.
The main reason I chose this at first, was that I wanted to compost all my kitchen waste and had heard that aerobic composting with this amount could attract rats.
I looked at a lot of options and chose the Trust Bin – fully sealed bins for anaerobic composting that are available on amazon.in and 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.
Composting with worms (Vermicomposting) : The Konkan Krishi Vikas Pratishthan at Sector 5 in Khargar sets up vermicomposting in housing societies. This is an aerobic method of composting. You’ll find them at Sector 5, Utsav Chowk in Khargar. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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.
Aerobic composting this way, in small lots, really works well for busy families who would like to do a little bit, and have just 5 minutes for a composting pot.
I like that it can be done in earthenware pots. It’s more environment friendly, than anaerobic bins which are often made of virgin plastic.