Five Things I’ve Learned About My Apartment Composter

Mostly Empty Apartment ComposterI’ve written before about our apartment composter. I wish my family had one when I was young, because watching the accelerated process of decay would have delighted the eight-year-old Darren. I’m still a little amazed that I can dump, say, some old lettuce into the thing and, 24 hours later, it’s magically turned into dirt.

The device hasn’t worked perfectly. The first one pretty much gave up the ghost after a year–the motor appeared to have rusted out. After some hemming and hawing, the manufacturer sent us a replacement, though, and that one’s been working like a charm for six months or so.

I have learned a few things about optimized composting, though:

  1. The composter is sensitive to humidity. It rains in Vancouver nearly twice as much as it does in Victoria. We keep our composter on our deck, though out of the rain. Still, the additional humidity means the composting material can get too wet. When this happens, we just chuck in a cup or two of sawdust. Top tip: get free sawdust at Home Depot.
  2. Compost can get smelly. This is only a problem when you open the bin to add material, and it doesn’t matter since it’s on the deck. If you’re keeping your composter inside, you can add some baking soda to reduce the odor. Besides, I kind of like this smell. It’s very loamy.
  3. It helps to poke at the dirt every few days with a spade. That way it doesn’t stick the walls of the bin, or gunge up the churning arm.
  4. To my dismay (per Lauren’s comment in this earlier post), the composter won’t break down so-called compostable containers made of corn resin.
  5. In Victoria, we didn’t have a garden, so I would, oddly, illegally dump the compost in a local park or something. In Vancouver, we’re hopefully going to have one of the community garden plots associated with our building. In the meantime, on moonless nights, I’ve been stealthily dumping dirt into a couple of the garden plots.


  1. You know, I’m sure your neighbours wouldn’t mind if you tossed some happy, healthy compost on their garden plots in the light of day.

    Unless, of course, you enjoy being the stealth fertilizer.

    1. It’s random at the moment because the property management is re-assigning the garden plots for 2010. We put in for one, and I’m dumping the compost in our preferred plot, but there’s no telling whether we’ll get it.

  2. Poking or stirring it up helps because the bacteria that makes the composting process happen requires oxygen. Stirring or tossing the compost is a vital part of the aeration process needed.

    1. Indeed. There’s a little cranking arm in the device that does that automatically, but it doesn’t scrape the sides of the bin as well as it could.

  3. If you were my neighbour and you dumped compost in my garden partially made from sawdust from HomeDepot I would whack you with spade.

    I would conservatively guess that over 75 percent of the use of the table saws at home depot is to rip sheet goods. Plywood and the like, and worse, MDF. Do not put that shit in your composter. It’s highly toxic. It’s fine if the garden is flowers, but don’t screw with someone elses vegetable plot by dumping formaldehyde in it.

    1. That’s a good point–I didn’t think of that. I didn’t obtain the sawdust myself, so I can’t speak to its content. I did some research on the web, and it suggested that the amount of formaldehyde is reduced by 90% during the composting process. But I should probably go get some sawdust pellets instead.

  4. Thanks for the tips! I have been considering getting an apartment composter for some time, and I know this info will come in handy. 🙂

  5. We always have more sawdust than we need at any given moment… currently from 100 year old reclaimed fir, if you need something “legitimate”.

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