Composting in Small Spaces

What do you do with your kitchen scraps and yard waste? Do you throw them out or do you make good use of them?  Composting is a good way to get micronutrients back into your soil.

Composting is really a very simple process. We don’t need to make it more complicated than it really is. It is a process that occurs naturally.

But what if you don’t have much space for compost piles? No problem! 

First of all, why should you compost anyway?

  1. Compost makes good use of kitchen scraps that would otherwise end up in the trash and if you are eating healthy, you have quite a few kitchen scraps.
  2. While there’s not enough nitrogen, phosphorus etc. for compost to be a good fertilizer, it does add micronutrients back to the soil from all the veggie and fruit scraps.
  3. Compost is a good soil conditioner. It improves the quality of the soil and retains moisture. That’s less you’ll have to buy at the garden center, so you’ll be saving money! Who doesn’t like that?
  4. It’s interesting (okay, so I’m easily entertained). You start with pieces of food and leaves and end up with soil. You made soil. 🙂 Your kids will love doing this. I did this one year with my class and they thought it was amazing.
  5. It’s easy. You just add, turn, cook, add, turn, cook, add… See there’s nothing to it and before you know it, you have rich soil to add to your garden.

But I don’t have enough room in my yard

You don’t need much room at all. I use two trash cans. How much space does that use? While one cooks, the other gets filled. You could probably manage with one can if necessary, but then you will have to wait in between batches.


I drilled holes in the bottom and sides for air flow and drainage. Make sure the cans  have lids that have a snug fit. You can also try to secure it with a bungee cord. This will keep animal out.

Also, if I don’t feel like turning the pile with my shovel, I can lay it down and roll it around!

Of course, If I need to move my compost pile, it travels well.

Bonus, my husband doesn’t have to look at it.

Now you’re ready to go!

How to start composting

I like to start with a shovel full of soil from the garden so that there are microorganisms and bugs and worms to start off.

Add dead browns (carbon) and fresh greens (nitrogen). Use roughly two to three times as many browns than greens.

Fresh scraps on partially decomposed scraps. I will keep adding and turning until the can is full.

Add some water to keep moist. Like a wrung out sponge. That water can even be leftover black coffee, water from cooking stuff, tea, etc. Be careful not to over water. Most of the green stuff you add has water in it already.

Add some compost activator. You can buy a box of this at the garden center. It adds microorganisms to your pile, that break it down quicker. If you don’t have any, it will still break down on its own. So don’t worry. It will do what it does naturally, this just gives it a kick start.


Turn it with a shovel or pitchfork. Mixing up the pile is important. It keeps the air flow going through. If it can’t breathe it may start to smell and it will slow down decomposition.

After about 2 weeks. The food is becoming less recognizable. Some food has broken down less than others. I have been adding to it every few days. Once the can is full I will stop adding and just let it cook. I will continue to turn it.

Add more greens and browns as available. Turn it up every few days. Add water as necessary.

Your can should not smell. If it smells bad, it means you don’t have enough brown in it, cause the greens to decay too quickly. Add more browns and the smell should go away.

When your can is about 3/4 full, start the second can. Don’t fill it all the way up, you need room to turn it. Keep turning until it is done.

It is just about ready. The pine needles take a bit longer, but I’m in no rush, I won’t be needing it until spring.

That’s it!

In the mean time keep adding greens and brown to the new can.

The smaller you chop the materials the faster it will break down and become soil.

The smaller you chop what you add, the faster it will decompose. The plate on the left will decompose faster than the plate on the right.

Some materials take long than others to break down but be patient. Don’t put large items that haven’t finished decomposing in your garden, the process of breaking it down will steal nitrogen from your soil.

When it looks like it is mostly finished, I sift through it and pull out the items that aren’t finished decomposing and throw them into the other can so that I can use the soil that is ready.

What’s a brown?


Dried stuff. Things like dead leaves, coffee grinds, tea bags, paper towels, newsprint (not glossy), dead sticks, dead pine needles, egg shells, dryer lint, cardboard, etc.

What’s a green?


Moist things. Fresh leaves and pine needles, fruit and veggie scraps, any plant from the garden that isn’t dead and dried up, etc.

Items you shouldn’t add

Animal products (meat, milk, cheese, eggs, etc), oil, diseased plants, chemicals or pet poop.

I also sometimes add old soil/plants from containers, but only if it is organic soil. This way I don’t get the chemicals from the standard potting mix in my organic garden. I don’t know if that makes a difference for an organic gardener, but I figure it’s better to play it safe.

Anyone know if that makes a difference?

Do you compost?

What are your small space tips?

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:19

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