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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

DIY Balcony Composter For Landless People

Make your own DIY composter to turn your food & kitchen waste into compost - use it to grow your own food and live more sustainably.

Compost bin condominium apartment setup

[If you don't know what a composter is or why I'm telling you to make one, go here.]

Pull those sleeves up for some DIY

I live in an apartment, albeit one with a pretty generous balcony. The balcony is littered with pots & plants though, so due to space constraints, I chose to make a stackable composter just like the Daily Dump’s Kambha collection. The only difference is, instead of using pretty and heavy terracottas, I use crates!

You can definitely get creative about the kinds of materials you use – and if you’re savvy enough, you can even repurpose items you already have around the house for free. As long as the item is sturdy, has enough holes for air to flow through and fits the amount of space you have, it’s good enough.

Gather the materials

materials for DIY compost bin

1. Crates (x2)

From: Chow Kit (RM 26 each)

I got two to start with, intending to fill one up, then continue to fill the other while the first decomposes. I made sure the crates can be stacked on top of one another.

2. Trays (x2)

From: Chow Kit (RM 20 each)

I got one tray to catch the liquid that will drain out of the bottom-most crate as things decompose, and another one to cover the upper-most crate with.

3. Mosquito mesh

From: Ace Hardware (RM 20)

The crates I bought have very large holes, so I had to cover them up with mesh to make sure the contents stay inside. Depending on your container, you may or may not need this.

4. Bag of Compost Maker

From: Ace Hardware (RM 32 each)

I don’t produce much garden waste or brown waste, so I make do by purchasing this to layer in between my food waste.

5. Glue Gun & Glue Sticks

From: Mr. DIY(Free)

I already had one on hand, because I am a dork like that.

Setup cost: RM 112

Recurring cost: RM 32 for Compost Maker

First, the Setup…

Measure the sides of the crate that you want to cover with mesh.

Cut to size, and glue-gun them from the inside of the crate.

glue mesh to crate

Repeat with other crates.

Stack in the following order: Bottom Tray > Crate 1 > Crate 2 > Top Tray

stack crates

Fill with your first layer of leaves/ compost maker / food waste – YAYYYY!

The steps above can be significantly reduced if you get the right kind of container, as you get to skip step 1-3 and get straight to making your compost.

Next, the Composting…

Dedicate a small bowl or container in your kitchen to hold all the organic waste you produce throughout the day.

Layer the bottom of your container with some dried material (leaves, paper, etc) and some compost maker.

dry layer in compost b

Put your collection of kitchen or food waste for the day on top of that. ​

kitchen food waste in compost bin

Layer again with moist plant material (leaves, vines, etc), dried material and/ or compost maker. ​

layer again with dry leaves

Repeat until full.

Once full, put the second crate on top and continue layering, leaving the bottom crate to do its thing in peace.

Once every 2 weeks, peek into the bottom crate, grab a small shovel and shake/turn/fluff the contents thoroughly – this is to allow air to circulate through the heap to help with decomposition.

Not too sure how long the process will take (it varies depending on what you put in the composter - meat and bones, for example, take a pretty long time), but eventually the contents of the bottom crate will more or less finish rotting and become compost. Take the fluffy brown stuff out and run them through a strainer to isolate the chunks of waste that have yet to fully degrade.

Put the unfinished decomposing waste into the top crate to let it continue decomposing.

Now you have fresh compost, and a newly-emptied crate to start the cycle all over again!

*Depending on the volume of waste you are trying to compost and the amount of time it takes for them to fully decompose, you may find that you need more than 2 crates. Simply add new crates or containers to the stack as and when the need arises.

Daily Dump has a great visual that explains the process with their Kambha pots, which are basically fancier versions of my humble crates:

kambha pot composting process

You can get more technical and intense by looking into Carbon:Nitrogen ratios, moisture levels, activators and compost aerators.

For the rest of us normal people, just make sure your compost is not too dry, not too wet, and not funny-smelling. If something goes wrong, refer to these troubleshooting guides:

1) Troubleshooting Guide by Daily Dump:

2) Troubleshooting Chart by Home Composting Made Easy

Just start already

It took me years to actually get started because I was so afraid of doing it wrong – What if it stank? What if it got really gross? (I’d conveniently overlooked the fact that throwing my food waste in a plastic bag is just as stinky and gross).

You may have similar concerns, but I urge you to not take as long as I did to gather the willpower to do it. I fell into the trap of endlessly reading up and researching, waiting until I had ‘all the answers’ before I took the plunge. As with anything you want to do in life, it is better to get started and continue experimenting than to wait until all the stars align and for the universe to give you the nod and a wink. Putting in 70%, 50% or even 20% is better than 0%. The good news is, you improve as you go along, but first, you need to get going.

Have fun, and let me know how it goes for you!

*** I'll be adding updates as I continue with this experiment - go here to find out how it's going! ***

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