How To Compost On Your Balcony

How To Compost On Your Balcony

Making compost on the balcony? For a long time I have been wondering whether it is possible to make humus-rich compost on the balcony.

Nutrient-rich compost forms the basis for a blooming paradise on the balcony. I researched long and extensively on this exciting topic.
In this article you will learn everything you need to know about making compost on the balcony. You will not have to look for more information. I’ve packed it all in. I promise. Let’s go!

Table of Contents

Why should you make compost on the balcony?


You should make compost on the balcony because only humus-rich compost will allow your vegetable plants and flowers to bloom in their full beauty. It is a great feeling not to throw food scraps into the organic waste garbage can, but to get valuable humus-rich compost soil out of it. This is not only easy on the wallet, but also on the environment.

By foregoing commercial artificial fertilizers and using humus-rich compost, valuable nutrients are returned to the natural cycle.

Making your own compost is a first step towards self-sufficiency, independence and active conservation. Each and every one of us can make a difference.

Is it difficult to make a compost on the balcony?


No, it is not difficult to make compost on a balcony. In the meantime, complete composter sets can be bought in stores. The time and financial effort to create your own compost despite (rented) apartment is actually quite small.

Is it a lot of work to make compost on the balcony?


No, making compost on the balcony is not much work. You should allow 10 minutes of “work” per week. An old rule says that taking care of a potted plant means three times the amount of work. The time invested is virtually negligible.

What is compost soil?


Compost soil is the end product that results from composting in a composter. Compost soil can be used again as a new growing medium for growing vegetable plants and flowers.

Why is humus-rich compost so valuable?


Humus-rich compost is so valuable because it is very rich in nutrients. It contains many trace elements. In addition to phosphorus and magnesium, compost soil provides abundant potassium, calcium, nitrogen and salts.

Compost soil rich in humus has the ability to provide plants with all the essential substances they need for healthy growth. As a result, plants can produce a high yield and are more resistant to plant diseases and pests.

Does a compost on the balcony stink?


No, a compost on the balcony does not stink if it is maintained. If rotting odors develop, it may be due to the following reasons:

1.) that there is too much moisture in the composter, caused by an unsuitable composition of the kitchen waste.

2.) the location of the composter is unsuitable.

3.) the lid of the composter does not close properly.

Filling the compost – what goes in?


The compost can be filled with very many wastes. However, before you fill a compost, you should find out exactly what waste belongs in the compost and what does not. Let’s go.

What kind of waste can be put into the compost?


raw fruits and vegetables flowers / soil / old potted plants

tea and coffee grounds / eggshells / garden waste / food scraps

What kind of waste should not be put in the compost?


cooked food waste / oils / meat and bones, bones / plastics

diseased plant parts / plant residues treated with pesticides

textiles / medicines / cigarettes / ashes / glass

What must be observed during filling?


In general:

1.) the smaller the kitchen waste, the better. It makes sense to shred bioresidues before putting them into the composter. Biological decomposition will then take place more quickly.

2) If the moisture content of the kitchen waste is very high, it is recommended to mix it with dry waste. This will prevent rotting and mold growth.
3) If the waste is dry, add some water. The waste should be moistened. Not wet!

4) To start composting, you can add ready-made compost (if you don’t have any, ask neighbors or friends).

A small bucket full is enough. The microorganisms in the fresh compost will start working right away and convert your waste into humus soil.

5) Mix the compost content. Mix the contents of the compost with the new waste. This way the microorganisms will quickly colonize and transform the new waste as well.

6) Mix the compost every three weeks. In this way you prevent rotting.

What happens during composting? – Explained step by step!

In order to produce humus-rich compost from plant residues, exactly 4 “rotting phases” are required. The composting process itself is called “rotting”.

Phase 1 – The preliminary phase
In the first phase (duration 1 week), the preliminary phase, the easily degradable substances, such as carbohydrates (sugar) and proteins, are first decomposed by fungi and bacteria. When carbohydrates decompose, energy is produced in the form of heat – up to 40 degrees.

If you take the trouble to shred the material to be composted well beforehand, you can speed up the process excellently. For example, if you shred a cauliflower stalk, the surface area will logically increase.

The more surface area there is for bacteria and fungi to attack, the faster it will decompose. The rapid decomposition of plant parts produces organic acids. As a result, the pH value in the compost drops.

Phase 2 – The hot rot
Phase 2 (duration 2-3 weeks) is also called “hot rotting”. Temperatures of up to 60 degrees are generated during this phase. The microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) that worked in the previous phase die under these temperature conditions.

The high temperatures occur because the easily utilizable nutrients of the biowaste have already been broken down and, as a result, the proportion of organic acids formed now also drops again. The pH value rises again. Fungi and bacteria that prefer warmth now spread. They have the ability to utilize even plant parts that are difficult to decompose, such as pectin, cellulose and fats.

The volume of the material to be decomposed decreases enormously already in this phase. Already after the first 3-4 weeks of composting, the so-called “raw or fresh compost” can be taken. It is excellent for beds whose soil is too solid.

If you apply the raw manure, earthworms will settle and loosen the soil. Raw compost is also suitable as a long-term fertilizer for potatoes and tomatoes, for example. It is important that fresh compost is always applied only superficially.

Phase 3 – The main rot
In phase 3 (duration 2-6 weeks), the remodeling phase or “main rot”, the temperature drops – it settles at around 40 degrees. The heat-loving microorganisms slow down their activities. Only the fungi present are still at work breaking down woody substances.

Humus is built up for the first time. The more advanced the rotting process, the larger the animals that move in. With the help of arachnids, mites and woodlice, other plant parts are decomposed. They eat them and excrete them. This process is important for the quality of the resulting compost.

Phase 4 – The post-rotting
During the 4th phase (duration 3-6 months), also known as “post-rotting”, the temperature has dropped to around 20 degrees. Worms in particular, such as the earthworm, do important work here.

The worms burrow through the resulting humus, eat the compost and digest it, resulting in a mixture of organic as well as mineral content in the compost. The result is a humus-rich fertilizer that is natural and nutrient-rich, called “worm humus.”

Can compost be used in flower boxes?

How To Compost On Your Balcony

Yes, you can use compost in window boxes. It is even ideal for the supply of balcony plants. You save expensive artificial fertilizer and provide your own flowering with self-produced compost. For flower boxes, there is no better fertilizer option than compost.

Can compost be used for growing vegetables on the balcony?
Yes, you can use compost very well for growing vegetables on the balcony. There is no better condition for a rich harvest than “mature compost” (compost 6-12 months old).

The plants are supplied with all the necessary nutrients. The compost soil can retain moisture very well due to its loose structure. The vegetable plants are very resistant to pests due to the rich supply of nutrients. This saves nerves and time of balcony gardeners.

Care of compost on the balcony – you need to know!
Many people think it is very complicated to maintain a compost. Other people think it is very time consuming to maintain a compost. Rest assured.

It is neither time consuming nor complicated. With the following tips, really anyone can maintain their compost and produce nutrient rich humus soil.

How moist does a compost need to be?


Compost needs moisture. Without water, decomposition cannot take place.worms also need a moist environment for their work. On the other hand, if the compost is too wet, rot sets in and it stinks.

The first thing to check is how moist the compost is in the first place. If the compost appears crumbly, the compost is too dry. If you take a small portion of the compost in your hand, squeeze it and it drips, it is too wet.

What to do if the compost is too wet?


If the compost is too wet, the compost should be mixed well and stirred (i.e. turned). This action will add oxygen and allow the compost to dry. If the compost is already really wet, dry plant parts in the form of hay and straw should be mixed in.

The plant parts suck the moisture out of the compost. To prevent the compost from becoming too wet again, care should be taken to ensure that the waste that is brought in has adequate moisture. Better mixing of the waste or drying the plant residues beforehand can help.

What to do if the compost is too dry?

If the compost is too dry, moisture must be added. Armed with a watering can, simply moisten the compost with water. The compost should be moistened. Not be made wet.

If the dryness of the compost is due to incorrect filling, it should be improved, for example, with the help of fruit and vegetable waste. Fresh green cuttings can also help. Especially in summer months with low precipitation, the compost can dry out. Therefore, regular control of the compost is recommended, especially in the summer.


How to know when the compost is ready?


You can tell when compost is ready by smelling it. Humus-rich manure smells like moist forest soil. Furthermore, there is a test to which the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) advises. The central environmental authority recommends a so-called “cress test”.

If you mix soil with compost and sow cress seeds on it, lush green seedlings should be visible in the pot (covered with cling film) after a week. This confirms the maturity of the organic fertilizer. If the sprouts are yellow, you can assume that the compost is still too immature. However, immature compost can be applied on the surface as a long-term fertilizer in the form of mulch.

How long does it take to produce compost?


In summer, the production of compost takes 4-6 months. The high outdoor temperatures stimulate the ripening process of the plant waste in the composter. In the cold autumn and winter months, you can expect it to last 6-12 months.

Cold weather inhibits the rotting process. If you operate a closed system indoors, you are independent of weather conditions and can expect a good result after about 12 weeks. Furthermore, it depends on which type of composter is used. The thermal composter is the fastest of all, but it can only be used outdoors, meaning in the garden.

Will I get a pest problem if I put a composter on the balcony?


Yes, you can get a pest problem from a composter on the balcony. However, in that case it’s not because of the compost, but because of lack of care.

For example, if an annoying smell develops, it will inevitably attract rats and mice. Even if you live on the second floor and not on the first floor of a house, the animals are able to climb up along the facade of the house.

A mouse or rat rarely comes alone. Raccoons and martens also delight in gammy food scraps. Flies also like to lay their eggs on compost and maggots inevitably form.

If you look after your composter, take care of it and follow the rules of composting, you will be spared uninvited guests.

Where should the composter be located on the balcony?


That depends on the type of composter. While the classic compost pile, the thermal composter and the rolling composter are intended for the garden, worm composters and Bokashi/Urban composters can be placed both in the apartment and on the balcony.

Direct sunlight should always be avoided, as the compost can dry out too quickly, disrupting and interrupting “the rotting” process. A semi-shaded place is ideal.

The Bokashi and the worm bin, can be located in the kitchen.

What composter size is suitable?


What composter size is suitable, can not be answered unequivocally. It depends on how much kitchen scraps/garden waste accumulates on average. After that you should choose the composter size. In case of doubt, it is advisable to buy a second composter.

Do animals live in the compost on the balcony?

Yes, animals live in the compost on the balcony. Microorganisms, i.e. bacteria and fungi, are needed so that organic waste can rot. In addition, worms, mites, larvae, isopods, centipedes and snails help turn plant waste into humus.

Do composters transmit diseases?


No, no diseases are transmitted through composters. Pathogens are killed above 55 degrees. In every composter, no matter what kind it is, temperatures around 60 degrees are created.

Thus it is impossible that germs, which can be disease-causing, survive.

What composters are suitable for making compost on the balcony?


First of all, you need to distinguish between the open and closed composting.

1) The open composting everyone knows from the garden: the compost pile.

2) In the closed composting there are the thermal composter and quick composter, the rolling composter, Bokashi composter and the worm bin.

Making compost on the balcony- Bokashi composter

A Bokashi/Urban composter, originally from Japan (Bokashi = fermented compost), is a compost bucket for the production of compost soil. The special thing is that for the production of biofertilizer so-called effective microorganisms (EM) are used.

The Bokashi/Urban composter can be used in a variety of ways and is available in any size: whether it’s an apartment or a balcony – it looks good anywhere.

How does a Bokashi/Urban composter work?


Bokashi System
The commercially available Bokashi bucket /Urban composter (Garantia) belongs to the closed systems. It consists of a plastic bucket with a lid, which closes airtight. This also prevents unpleasant odors, so it is excellent for use in the apartment and on the balcony. The use of effective microorganisms creates a particularly high-quality biofertilizer.

Effective microorganisms
Effective microorganisms not only strengthen the immune defenses of plants, but also contribute to their optimal development. If you buy a ready-made Bokashi set/Urban composter (Garantia), in addition to the bucket with lid, a sieve and a drainage tap are included.

The drain cock is necessary to be able to drain the resulting compost water. To be able to produce biofertilizer, you need a solution with effective microorganisms, which is also available for purchase (usually in a spray bottle) (Speedy Compost from Garantia).

The working steps
In addition to a spray bottle, should still be prepared a plastic bag in which there is sand or water. After all preparations have been made, the kitchen waste is sufficiently shredded and filled into the Bokashi bucket.

After that, the spray bottle is used. The organic waste is wetted with the EM solution until it appears moist. After that, weigh down the damp kitchen waste with the sand or water bag. This bag should completely cover the moistened kitchen waste so that no oxygen is supplied.

Now you can close the Bokashi/Urban composter airtight using the bucket lid. Repeat this procedure again and again until the Bokashi bucket is filled to the brim.

The sand or water bag is no longer needed when the bucket is completely full. Closed airtight, the Bokashi/Urban composter is left for at least 14 days. During this period, the organic waste ferments with the help of the added microorganisms.

The compost water


Every two days, the drain tap should be operated and the resulting compost water should be tapped. The water should not be poured away. Diluted with water, the compost water can be used as a liquid fertilizer (30-50 ml is added to 10 l of water). With this nutrient solution you can now water your plants. In Japan this mixture is also called healing water for plants.

If you don’t have any use for the compost water at the moment, you can fill it into bottles, buckets, Tupperware and seal them airtight. The compost water can then be used at a later date.

Harvesting the Bokashi compost


Bokashi compost is ripe when a whitish coating forms on the surface. I would describe the smell as slightly acidic. Empty your bokashi bucket and mix the bokashi compost with potting soil. A good rule of thumb is 1/3 Bokashi compost and 2/3 regular potting soil.

You should mix everything well so that the microorganisms can distribute themselves well. Moisten the mixed soil daily. After about a week you can use the soil in plant pots or on your raised bed. You will be amazed at what happens to your plants!

Can you use Bokashi compost on existing beds or balcony boxes.
Yes you can. The microorganisms in the Bokashi compost, will revitalize the existing soil. The plants will be provided with new nutrients. Loosen the existing soil a little and apply Bokashi compost (the existing layer of soil should be abundantly covered with Bokashi compost). Mix it superficially and water the compost well. You will notice the effect shortly, I promise.

Care of the Bokashi bucket


When the Bokashi bucket is completely empty, it should be cleaned thoroughly. For an environmentally friendly cleaning, citric acid or vinegar (optionally vinegar essence) are suitable.

Where can the Bokashi composter be used?


The Bokashi composter is a true all-rounder. You can use it in your home (kitchen, basement, storage room, etc.). Nothing stands in the way of using it in the garden or on the balcony. Everyone who has flower boxes, tomato plants or a herb bed should think about becoming a Bokashi producer.

Is it difficult to make Bokashi compost?


In a nutshell. No. Anyone can do it! You may know that I am an educator. The 4 year olds in my former kindergarten class made bokashi compost themselves. So it really is super easy.

My personal product recommendations about Bokashi composters
My friend has the following Bokashi starter set in use: https://amzn.to/2lc0MOR* The starter set has a lot of positive customer reviews, which match our positive experiences.

No smell and the fermentation works without any problems. Using this set has dramatically reduced our waste costs.

Making compost on the balcony- worm bins/ worm composters
What are worm composters/worm boxes?
The name in the worm composter is program: it works through the use of worms. This composting method uses dung worms to produce high-quality biofertilizer from dead plant parts.

The maintenance requirements for worm bins are very low. In addition, such a composter requires quite little space and is odorless: ideal for the apartment or balcony.

How do worm composters/worm boxes work?


Worm boxes are small boxes made of wood or plastic that house compost worms along with microorganisms (fungi and bacteria). You have to imagine a compost worm externally like a small earthworm. In this case, humans use the feeding instinct and excretions of the compost worms to produce the finest worm humus from their kitchen waste.

There are different types of compost worms that utilize a different amount of kitchen waste (generally, compost worms are dung worms).

Structure of the worm composter
Structure of a worm composter consists of three layers:

1.) soil layer

2.) working layer

3.) top layer.

The soil layer
The soil layer should be about 3-4 centimeters thick. Since worms prefer a moist habitat, material that retains moisture is suitable.

1.) Small torn (preferably untreated and unprinted) cardboard keeps the necessary moisture.

2.) Cardboard back of a writing pad, cardboard of a toilet paper or kitchen roll).

3.) Soil (e.g. potting soil) or coconut fiber provides a suitable habitat for the worms.

Working layer


The working layer, as the name suggests, consists of the kitchen waste to be recycled. It should be noted here that worms do not eat all types of organic waste. If “fed” incorrectly, the worms may even die.

Also, the risk of mold that develops should not be underestimated. Cooked and seasoned food scraps, pickled foods, garlic, dairy products, meat and/or bone scraps, and citrus fruits specifically do not belong in a worm bin.

Top layer


In order to keep the necessary moisture in the crate, it needs a suitable top layer. If this is not present, there is also a risk of maggots forming. Flies like to lay their eggs on uncovered organic waste. The top layer ideally consists of moistened soil, leaves, cardboard or newspapers.

The lid


Finally, a lid with air holes is placed on top, either made of wood or plastic. The lid minimizes the incidence of light and keeps out fly maggots. If you want to be absolutely sure, you can also install a fly net. Then the worm box is also escape-proof for the worms.

The location
The location of the worm bin is also important. Since the worms are temperature-sensitive, they feel most comfortable between 15 and 25 degrees.

The best place for such a worm bin is on a shady part of the balcony or directly in the kitchen near the organic waste. In autumn and winter, when the temperature drops below 5 degrees, you should put the worm bin in the apartment or basement.

The worms
The worms are really hungry fellows and want to be fed regularly. A good measure is to feed kitchen scraps once a week. They are happy with coffee and tea grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps.

Worms eat sand/soil/stone chips in addition to bioresidues (keep this in mind when filling the soil) and mix these ingredients in their stomachs. If they excrete feces, calcium is included. The calcium combines the ingested mineral and organic elements in a slime layer.

Worm humus
Fungi and bacteria further process the excreta until the desired worm humus is produced. The worm fertilizer needs 3-6 months in its formation process. Then it can be used as a mixture with soil/sand.

By the way, worm humus is up to 7 times more effective than the average compost, because it is more nutritious. You can also equip worm bins with a chamber system by dividing the bin into two chambers.

In one chamber goes the fresh kitchen waste, while in the other chamber is the waste that is already rotting.

Should worm compost be used pure?


No, you should not use worm compost pure. The compost is simply too rich in nutrients. An overabundance of nutrients is not good for your plants. Always mix the worm compost with other soil or give worm compost superficially on the beds.

Can the worms escape from the worm bin?


The biggest “fear” regarding worm compost is that the worms will escape from the worm bin and a worm invasion will occur. I have to admit, I had this same concern when I first heard about worm bins.

In preparation for this article, I spoke with acquaintances who use this system. I visited them and took a look at the system.

I can assure everyone, it is not disgusting, nor does it stink, and most importantly, the worms cannot escape from the box. Of course, only if you close the lid tightly. My acquaintances, have placed their worm box in front of the apartment door.

My personal product recommendations on the subject of worm bin / worm composter.
This starter set comes with compost worms and extensive accessories.

If you need a supply of worms, you can order 1000 hungry worms in a bucket.

If you are handy, you can build a worm box yourself.

Which composter is recommended?

1) Worm composter/ worm box.

2.) Bokashi/ Urban composter.

Advantage Bokashi
Both composting systems can be recommended. The advantage of the Bokashi/ Urban composter is the higher speed of composting. If you decide to use the Bokashi system, it is recommended to buy two Bokashi buckets. While one bucket is already in the fermentation process and cannot be refilled for at least 14 days, the other bucket will be used for currently accumulating kitchen scraps.

Advantage worm compost
My experience is that the nutrient content of worm compost is slightly higher than that of Bokashi compost. If you are growing a lot of high yielding crops on your balcony, e.g. peppers, chillies, tomatoes, the worm bin should be preferred.

Advantages of both systems
Both systems, the worm composter and the Bokashi/Urban composter, are space-saving, effective and inexpensive. In winter, both systems should be given a place in your home, basement or storage room. This way you can harvest fresh compost even in winter.

Drum composter
Drum composters are suitable for use in the garden, as well as on the balcony. If your kitchen produces large amounts of organic waste, drum composters are recommended. The composters have a drum volume of 50 – 300 l. Depending on your needs, you can choose the appropriate size.

When using drum composters, you save the tedious rearrangement, as you have to do it at regular intervals with compost piles in the garden. If one wants to rearrange the compost, one simply turns the drum and the waste is mixed and rearranged.

The waste used should be shredded. At the initial filling, fresh compost should be added to start the rotting process. If you do not have fresh compost available, you can use biological compost starter.

Drum composters with 2 chambers are recommended. While the “rotting” takes place in one chamber, the second chamber is filled with organic waste in parallel. Drum composters are a best seller in the USA and are slowly making their way into Europe.

When should drum composters be used?


Drum composters can be used in the garden and on the balcony. If you have larger amounts of organic waste/green waste etc, then drum composters are the first choice.

Drum composters should not be used indoors. Small amounts of compost may fall out of the vents when the drum is rotated.

The rotting process occurs more quickly than with “normal” compost piles because the rearrangement occurs more frequently.

To start composting, you should use compost starter. This compost starter contains guano (penguin droppings). Guano is at the same time extremely good fertilizer and a valuable addition

What is a thermal composter?


A thermal composter is something for the very fast: as fast as it, no one can.

Within 6-8 weeks you can already harvest the first fresh compost. A thermal composter consists of a plastic or wooden box with a lid. Accordingly, it is a closed system.

Due to its thick walls, a temperature of about 70 degrees is created. This heat is not released to the outside due to the thick insulation of the walls, but remains in the container.

Thermal composters are filled from the top and have a flap in the lower part of the composter. There, the finished compost soil can be conveniently removed.

How does a thermal composter work?


The thermal composter is an all-rounder. Due to the thickness of the side walls and the resulting temperature of about 70 degrees, the microorganisms work at full speed. This decisively accelerates the production of humus.

The faster bacteria and fungi decompose plant residues, the faster the valuable compost is produced. Models with a chamber system are now also available on the market. The advantage of such a chamber system is that new garden waste can be filled in at the top, while fresh compost can already be removed through the flap near the bottom. The chambers have different ripening processes of the organic waste.

Can you use thermocomposters on the balcony?


No, thermal composters are not suitable for the balcony. Thermal composters need contact with the soil so that bacteria, microorganisms and worms can colonize the composter.

They are best used in smaller gardens. For a large garden size from 400 square meters upwards, the maximum capacity of the thermal composter of 900 liters is often not enough.

Conclusion: thermal composters are suitable for quick composting of organic waste. Faster than with the thermal composter, it is not possible with any system.

Unfortunately, thermocomposters need the earth to allow the microorganisms to colonize the compost. Thus, they are not suitable for a normal balcony. Should they have access to a piece of meadow or front yard, thermal composters are first choice.

Compost accelerator ensures that the rotting process starts within a very short time.

Can you build a composter yourself?


Yes, you can build a composter yourself. There are many composters that you can assemble yourself. These are usually open composters, which are a good application in larger gardens. In my garden I have built the border of the compost pile myself from wooden logs.

For all those who have little time or no desire to work, there are various solutions. Whether from wood, metal or pallets. With the large selection, everyone will find the right solution! Here I have picked out a composter made of lattice.

The advantage of the grid method is that an excellent air circulation is guaranteed. This accelerates the rotting processes.

What wood should be used when building a composter on the balcony?


The wood, which is used for the construction of a composter, must withstand quite a bit. It should withstand any weather and be durable. It is advisable to invest a little more money.

Normally, wood must be impregnated to make it water-repellent. If you decide to use larch wood from the very beginning, you can save yourself this additional time-consuming step.

Conclusion:
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope I could help you to find out the right composting method for you.

In the end, each method has advantages or disadvantages. Only one thing is for sure. For all people who want to live environmentally conscious and climate neutral, composting is an important component in taking personal responsibility.

It is up to everyone to ensure that the natural cycle of creation and decay closes again and again and that new life can grow from old.

If one turns to the area of conventional agriculture, the use of compost could also be extremely useful here. In industrial agriculture, there is often the problem of eroded soil.

The soil is too firm, too fine-pored and nutrient-poor due to the cultivation of monocultures. To breathe life into the depleted soil, artificial fertilizers are usually used.

The use of compost could save resources and save arable land. Since compost contains a high proportion of humus, it is able to remineralize the eroded soil and thus make it fertile again. From nature, into nature, with nature = compost.

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