Using Your Compost
For many who take up composting, it’s not enough to simply process waste in your apartment, urban home, or other setting. Composting does help us recycle and reuse organic matter—but what is it without its greater uses and applications?
Composting is a method that is especially helpful to you plant-growing urban homesteaders out there; particularly, those wishing to enrich their life and diet with home-grown, indoor, balcony, or backyard-grown veggies! Either that, or you want to give the potting soil for your indoor domestic plants a little “boost.”
Buying a lot of fertilizer lately? On top of that—do you want to reduce your ecological footprint, save money, and make use of the plant or food scraps getting chucked in your trash bin?
Composting is the simple solution to all these issues. When you compost, soil organisms, microbes, and even earth worms (if you’re open to them) transform your home food waste stream into mineral-rich, healthy food for your hungry plants. What’s not to love?
You don’t grow plants or veggies? That’s a-okay. There are other ways to use your compost around your home and in a way that benefits your community too.
Avoid the Mess
This is frequently the first concern of those striking into the indoor-composting frontier. Compost is, essentially, soil—even if it is more complex and nutrient-rich than normal soil. But how do you use it in your home or apartment, without getting it all over the floor, furniture, or your other precious things?
Here’s a neat trick to prevent this as you compost: over time, remove all your finished, broken-down compost and place it in a separate container. Keep this container in a place where you wouldn’t mind if a few pieces of dirt fall out over the sides and where clean up can be hassle-free and quick (such as on linoleum or tile).
An old soil bag, plastic tote/bin (with lid to cover), or a small empty garbage can (with lid) are containers folks use and which work exceptionally well. Examples of places to put your container: a pantry, closet, under the stairs, mudroom, balcony and, ideally, anywhere without carpeted floors!
When you need to transfer finished compost into this container, it won’t be a mess. Just bring your composting container to the storage container, and pour/scrape/shovel the finished stuff straight in.
When you need to use it, do so like you have a bag of soil on-hand. You can remove, sprinkle, or transfer your compost to the plants or other destinations it needs to go. All this becomes a part of your routine, and quickly turns into a second-nature step as you fill and empty your compost over time!
Fertilize your Potted Plants
Lots of folks only have houseplants, and composting is good news for those plants. You can give them some “star treatment” by feeding them sporadic doses of your finished compost. Doing this applies to any sort of indoor plant, from ornamental ones to culinary herbs.
It’s simple: sprinkle or place a handful or two, or maybe just a scoop, of compost fertilizer right at the base of your plant, where its stem goes into the ground. When you water your plant, this compost “soaks” into the potting soil in the remaining container, providing your household plant buddy with some extra minerals and nutrients.
Are you transplanting or moving your plant up into a bigger container? Mix or dilute some compost right into your chosen potting soil. It achieves the very same effect.
Make sure you are acquainted with the personal nutrient and soil consistency demands of each your house plants. Every species and variety of plant is different. Some can take compost, and some will not. The research is up to you!
Also: only use completely finished, cooled down compost. More intense, nitrogenous varieties have the potential of killing your plants.
Fuel for Indoor Veggies
Getting deeper into the realm of indoor-growing, composting is a good start for those pursuing the dream of an indoor garden paradise.
How do you do this, with no garden or balcony space? You must select veggies that will thrive indoors, or with at least some partial shade. Sadly, you can’t grow bountiful tomato plants, corn stalks, or watermelons inside—but you can certainly grow cool greens and harvest them year-round in a strictly indoor apartment, if you do it correctly.
If you have a balcony with the right sunlight, however, you CAN have a small urban garden with practically any vegetable you like!
Some indoor vegetable tips:
- Limited to indoors only? Check if your house or apartment has a very large (larger than 5’x5’) south-facing window.
○ You can set up small window-sill planters and grow greens like lettuce, arugula, corn salad, baby kale, or chives right inside—though not much else.
○ Use your finished compost as a feeder or soil base,
- Try an outdoor window planter. Select a window on the south-facing side of your home or apartment. Depending on which planter you choose, installation and set-up is different—but you can fill this plant up with soil, finished compost, and a wider selection of veggies.
○ Try tomatoes, beans, peppers, or onions, and not just greens this time around. Heftier crops like squash, melons, corn, or root vegetables may not do so well—or break your planter if you’re not careful.
Microgreens are basically just a fancy word for “sprouts.” They are a gourmet, culinary favorite among chefs and famous cooks alike, garnering high prices to be implemented into sumptuous meals.
But did you know that they are easy to grow, AND they love compost fertilizer? You can feel like a top chef and expert vegetable grower with no sweat off your brow, if you elect to grow microgreens.
- Similar to growing indoor veggies, you only need a few things: a south-facing window or an excellent grow light, a shallow seed tray that drains well, your compost mix, some fine-grain soil, a water bottle and the sprout seeds of your choice.
- Lay at least 1” thick worth (1 ½ – 2 at most) of compost/soil mixture in your seed tray. It helps to “strain” or “filter” your compost/soil mix through a fine mesh or screen so that your tiny seeds have an easier time emerging.
- Then, sprinkle your sprout seeds evenly throughout the tray, spritz with water, and place under light or window.
- Spritz at least once a day, or if soil appears dry, and in a week you should be able to harvest your microgreens for food! Clean a pair of scissors, and you can “snip” away the sprouts that pop up.
What are some good plants for growing sprouts? Popular ones are alfalfa, buckwheat, sunflower, peas, lettuce, or any “brassica” (kale, cabbage, arugula, turnip, mustard, broccoli, kohlrabi, etc.), Add these delicious, incredibly nutrient-dense microgreens to the top of a salad, or as a garnish to any chosen dish. They’re especially nutrient-dense thanks to your compost!
Have a south-facing or south-east facing deck that receives plenty of sunshine, and can afford just a little bit of space? Fill it up with planters, garden boxes, and pots for vegetables. Enrich your garden soil mix with your at-home compost, to boot.
If your balcony receives enough sun all day, you can grow practically any vegetable you like: potatoes, melons, cucumbers, and even corn are fair game. Even better, they’ll appreciate the delicious compost boost you give them each week, when you empty out your finished bin or container.
Your Backyard Garden
If you’re a gardening enthusiast with raised beds or boxes in your backyard already, you are likely already aware of the benefits your food waste stream can give your garden in the form of finished compost. It makes managing your food scraps and turning them into something useful all that more worth it!
Integrating compost with your garden is simple. When constructing beds or filling your garden box, simply mix in your finished compost. Even if you already have your vegetables alive and thriving, you can sprinkle compost in between plants or rows and mix it in with a spade or hoe right around the plants’ roots.
The nutrients go straight to the roots—and you also help aerate the soil, thus improving the soil health of your beds.
Whether you’re starting seeds for an indoor or outdoor garden, you can use some of your compost to give your plant babies the food and nutrient boosts they need to get growing.
Simply mix in your compost with your starter mix—start your seeds and watch them grow. Then, use more compost and more soil as you move your seedlings into larger containers or to their final growing home.
Feed your Lawn and Yard
No garden or veggies? No problem. If all you have is only a front yard, backyard, trees and shrubs to speak of, then you can jettison the compost you produce to these outdoor plants for their benefit.
Take finer, smaller-grain compost, and simply scatter it about the grass of your lawn as a “foliar” and to encourage better growth. Similar to the way you could individually fertilize your vegetables or house plants, think about spreading some compost around the trees or bushes around your house. They would surely appreciate it!
Does your City Compost? Consider Donating!
If you simply want a compost pile to reduce your food waste, save space in landfills, or just because you love the chemistry of it—and you have NO plants—that’s okay.
See if you have a friend, neighbor, community resource, or local farmer or gardener who could make use of it. Trust me – you need no better segue or icebreaker with a veggie-grower than to bring up “Hey, do you want free compost?” Chances are they won’t say no.
Check out your city’s waste management and other ordinances too, and you might be able to donate your compost along with yard scraps. Some programs even provide some nifty curb-side pick-up services, just like they would do with your trash or recycling.
The city might also donate or sell this compost straight to people who use it or need it. But do some research, and check with your city’s composting or waste management first, if you’re concerned.
Advertise or Sell
Folks all over the World Wide Web could be seeking a batch of free, finished compost for their gardens. Some of them might even be willing to part with a few bucks for it!
List that you have finished compost in your city pages, local bulletin boards, or even try to advertise on Craigslist. You never know who could need it—or the interesting compost-lovers, farmers, and gardeners you could meet.