Update on the Compost Experiment

My bucket in action.

So I’ve been attempting to compost since, oh… March? I live in a condo (with someone who thinks absolutely nothing of wasting food, too, so my bins fill up fast), with about a 200 sq/ft yard in the back and pretty much nothing in terms of yard waste. And I gotta say, it’s been a little less than stellar.

At first I tried “traditional” composting in a 5 gallon bucket from Home Depot that I drilled a bunch of holes into. It… worked? I think? But it’s probably going to be another year at least until it breaks down into anything that resembles soil. Right now most of it is in discernible, bone-dry chunks. It was a failed attempt, and I think I’m just going to throw it all out to be honest. That bucket is taking up precious real-estate in the yard.

About 3-4 months ago, I got a Bokashi bin online to try out, since Bokashi is supposed to be much more apartment/condo-friendly. And for the most part, it is. I managed to get a crappy bucket with a leaky spout, though, so that made for a pretty miserable first batch before I could get back in there and tighten it up. Lets just say that the fruit flies had a field day with the compost tea residue while it lasted.

But then I figured out that you generally have to deal with the food waste when the bucket is full. It doesn’t magically turn into something useful in there all on its own–aside from the tea–and you have to intervene to make that last step happen. And that last step may or may not involve more space.

These are the options you have. From Sunburst Unlimited:

 1.  Bury the contents of the bucket in a hole or trench about 8-12 inches deep.  Use the soil that was removed to cover the fermented food waste.  You can plant seeds in the soil immediately after filling the hole.  Wait 1-2 weeks before planting transplants.

2.  Fermented food waste can also be added around established plants throughtout the year without causing any damage to the plants.

3.  Add it to an existing compost pile.  Just dig in the pile, empty the bucket, and cover fermented food waste with compost materials.

4.  You can make your own “soil factory” in a storage tub:  put some good soil on the bottom, add a layer of well-drained fermented food waste, mix well.  Cover with a layer of soil and flatten.  Cover with plastic or a lid to keep it from getting wet.  After about 30 days, it’s ready for use as “good dirt”.

The last one is what I tried. But still, after more than a month, the food waste hasn’t broken down much at all, from what it looks like to me. I probably did something wrong, but that’s still a time-consuming, and frankly sort of stinky, mistake to make.

Sunburst Unlimited recommends that if your Bokashi compost smells putrid more than fermented, then add some sugar and let sit. My second batch of Bokashi compost looks to be doing much better– there’s white mold growing along the top layer of scraps, and it doesn’t have too much of a smell when I open it up. It smells a little bit like garbage, but mostly like an odd, weak vinegar. (I don’t have much of a sense of smell, though, so I’m not really the one to ask anyways.)

So I’ve got a bucket sitting out in the yard, full of, hopefully, properly fermented compost sandwiched between two layers of soil and sprinkled with a bit more Bokashi bran. I’ll probably have to add more bran and some sugar to help it along at this point.

If this doesn’t work, then I’m not sure what else to do. I might try to dump it in a larger, wider-mouthed container so I can keep a better eye on it, or I may attempt to dig a hole to bury it someplace inconspicuous around the complex. (Good thing I’m good friends with the grounds’ landscaper/gardener!)

Either way, I don’t see how practical Bokashi composting would be if you didn’t have access to any sort of yard at all. I guess you could do it on a balcony (I’d never do it in the house) if you had your secondary container and some store-bought soil handy, but then you’d better have something to do with the resulting compost!

In conclusion, I’m glad that Vancouver is ramping up its curbside compost pickup program, which will be in full-swing for apartment-dwellers by the time I get up there. And while I’ll keep doing it myself as long as I have to, not gonna lie: this is a pain in the butt so far. I will not be unhappy to have the city take care of it for me.

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