Alright, you city folk, apartment dwellers, thinking that this whole composting thing doesn't apply to you because you live in a small place and don't garden... I think there could still be something for you in this post.
You don't have to have a big, involved composting system like ours to benefit from compost. This is ours at the messiest time of year:
My husband is really embarrassed about this picture, btw- it's the worst the compost pile ever looks. It only stopped snowing a few weeks ago, and we don't really do anything to the compost pile over the winter except add things to it, and on the days that have been dry enough to work outside, we've been busy mowing lawns (ours, my mother's, the grass by the creek bed...), and on days that weren't nice enough, well, the weeds grew anyway. This compost pile framework is made from pallets and old fence posts, both of which were free to us. My husband measured the pallets, stuck the fence posts in the ground at the right intervals, and then we just set the pallets over them.
This is the biggest compost pile we have ever had. In previous locations we had:
A one compartment pile, made from from four pallets over fence posts, and I would lift up the front pallet and shovel the pile and put the pallet 'gate' back in place. I was younger then.
A round pile made by first sticking a PVC pipe with holes in it in the ground vertically, then placing four fence posts about two feet out from the center pole and wrapping chicken wire around it all. We tossed compost in over the chicken wire, stuck a hose down the PVC pipe periodically to water it (and the pipe with holes served to air it out so less turning over was required), and periodically lifted the chicken wire off and turned the thing over.
A trash can with holes drilled in the sides- I'd put the lid on and roll it around the yard periodically- or have a child do that.
This is how we use our current compost pile:
On the far right side is the place for 'fresh' things- we keep an old ice-cream bucket for scraps in the kitchen, and periodically we dump that bucket in the far right side. Every once in a while we shovel one of the following over the top of that:
dirt from the woods
old hay or straw from the gardens or the barn
We fill up that far right side until, well, until it's full enough, about 3/4 of the way to the top, and then we (meaning my son) shovel it out of the far right compartment into the middle compartment. As you can see, once in a while somebody doesn't pay attention and they dump 'new' compost material onto the middle compartment, but they aren't supposed to do that.
Now, in the winter, that's all that happens. This weekend, the first really solid spring weekend we have, which is when my husband was hoping I would be writing this post and taking a picture of the compost pile, the weeds get pulled out of the way, and the compost pile in the middle gets shoveled up and over to the compartment at the far left.
For the rest of the season, until first snow, every day we add new compost to the narrower section at the far right and just keep adding to that section, and every week we shovel the 'aged' compost from the middle to the section on the left, or back from the section on the left to the section in the middle. This regular turning over gives us rich, dark compost in just a month or so.
I use that compost for seedlings, to put in five gallon buckets where I grow tomatoes and peppers (we have a lot of yard, but it's mostly sandy and shady), and for improving the soil where I can grow things.
You can compost in a bucket, an ice chest, or a 2 litre soda bottle. Why would you want to?
Turns trash into something marvelously complex, interesting, and life-giving
Because then you can plant a couple window sill pots of lettuce or herbs in your home-grown compost- you don't need to buy potting soil or fertilizer- or even pots!
The two buckets hold lettuce seedlings, which we will eat by just pulling off the outside leaves (and thinning out a big). I have a couple other buckets with lettuce growing on other windowsills. The buckets were free, the soil the is my free compost, and the aloe vera you see is another useful kitchen plant, as we break off a bit and rub it on whenever we burn ourselves cooking.
I recently found out something interesting about compost which I did not know.
The Boy was building a small worm bed and the directions called for peat moss, which we did not have. Aside from the frugalities of running to the store, we live ten miles from town and drive a 12 passenger van, and I do not make spur of the moment runs into town. We go into town on a scheduled basis, and usually only when that trip coincides with other scheduled trips- music lessons, library volunteering, work, and so forth. So I let my fingers do the walking, quite literally, and googled it. I found that compost is not only a good substitute for peat moss, it's preferred for several reasons, one important reason being that peat moss is apparently not a renewable resource! I had no idea.
You can make also make quick compost by mixing shredded paper and coffee grounds.
What should you put in your compost bucket?
Here's how we keep ours- we save all kitchen waste except meat and dairy scraps- I keep a plastic bucket with a lid on the kitchen counter (other places I have put it under the sink. Into it, I toss coffee grounds, cold coffee, tea bags, egg shells, vegetable peelings, moldy bread, slimy lettuce leaves, leftover bits of salad too far gone to use, the remains of dead flowers, apple cores, onion skins, sometimes hair from our hair brushes, all kinds of odds and ends, mostly from the kitchen.
I do NOT put the lid all the way on it- what makes a compost pile or the bucket collecting the compost fixings stink is a lack of air- the more airtight your system, the nastier it will smell. I just leave the lid loosely over the top, or sometimes put a cloth over the top to keep bugs out, but allow it enough air not to reek. Every day or two that bucket gets emptied into the space at the end of my compost pile. If you don't have a big outside compost pile, you could use:
a trash can with holes drilled in it
An old ice chest with holes drilled in it (for drainage)- this kind works best for a worm bed, which will really give you good turnover for composting, or some other smaller container.
The Key Ingredients for Success:
Constant turn over- for us, that's because we have three bins- one for constantly adding new materials to, one is always empty, and one has the 'old' compost which is now in the final stages of breaking down. Having an empty bin makes turning over the compost much easier. But you could do the same thing with a smaller container that you can just flip over or roll- the trash can, the two litre soda bottle with a flap cut out of the side for adding content, and holes for drainage (you can keep this in a shallow pan to catch drainage. Use the drainage to fertilize plants.)
Airflow- you don't want an air tight system. The smelliest bacteria thrive in anaerobic conditions.
You could also use your home-grown compost to grow seedlings to sell at your local farmer's market, or perhaps there is a market for it among some of your friends. Maybe somebody who does have plenty of sunny windows would be willing to barter your compost for some home-grown lettuce leaves?
Even if you don't have a sunny window and you don't want to grow your own houseplants (although studies show they are good for the environment, filtering out toxins from the air), you can still make compost- after all, if you have kids, it's fun to show them how things break down and turn back into dirt! You could share your compost with somebody who does garden, or simply take your bucket of new dirt out to the park and dump it out there instead of into the garbage. After all, isn't it just amazing that the sort of garbage you see here:
Can into turn dirt capable of growing and nourishing something like this: