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Composting 101: How to Create Your Own Nutrient-Rich Soil for Urban Gardening

Updated: May 5, 2023

Living in the city, you might think that composting is an impossible task for you, given the limited space and potential odor issues. However, creating nutrient-rich soil for your urban garden is easier than you think. In this article, we will show you the benefits of composting, and how to get started on your composting journey to improve plant health and reduce waste.

What is Composting and Why Should You Do It?

Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter, such as kitchen scraps, garden waste, and other natural materials, into a nutrient-rich substance called compost. This compost can then be used as a natural and sustainable fertilizer for your plants.

Benefits of composting:

  1. Enriches soil: Compost adds essential nutrients to the soil, improving its fertility and structure. This leads to healthier and more productive plants.

  2. Reduces waste: Composting helps divert organic waste from landfills, reducing methane emissions and decreasing your carbon footprint.

  3. Saves money: Making your own compost means you won't need to buy chemical fertilizers, saving you money and benefiting the environment.

Getting Started: Choosing a Composting Method

There are several composting methods suitable for urban gardeners, each with its pros and cons. Let's explore three popular methods for creating compost in small spaces.

1. Traditional Composting (Outdoor)

How it works: A traditional compost pile is created outdoors using a mix of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Some people choose to dig a hole to throw their scraps in for composting while others use storage tote bins like this affiliate link, Rubbermaid 31 Gallon Storage Tote and shovel around to mix the compost from time to time. Another popular outdoor option would be the Dual Chamber Tumbling Composter (Affiliate link). With either option, over time, microorganisms break down the mixed green and brown materials into compost.


  • Inexpensive and low-maintenance

  • Suitable for most types of organic waste


  • Requires outdoor space

  • Takes longer to produce compost (3-6 months)

Ideal for: Those with access to an outdoor space, such as a balcony or small backyard.

2. Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)

How it works: Worms (typically red wigglers) are used to break down organic matter in a worm bin. The resulting product, called vermicompost, is a highly nutritious soil amendment.


  • Faster composting process (1-3 months)

  • Can be done indoors or outdoors

  • Produces a nutrient-rich compost


  • Requires purchasing and maintaining worms

  • Not suitable for all types of waste (e.g., citrus, onions, and spicy foods)

Ideal for: Apartment dwellers with limited outdoor space who want a faster composting method.

3. Bokashi Composting

How it works: Bokashi is a Japanese method that relies on anaerobic fermentation to break down organic waste. This method requires an airtight container and special microorganisms called bokashi bran.


  • Can be done indoors or outdoors

  • Suitable for all types of organic waste, including meat and dairy

  • Faster composting process (2-4 weeks)


  • Requires purchasing bokashi bran

  • Additional step of burying fermented waste in soil or adding to another compost pile

Ideal for: Those looking for a speedy and versatile composting method that can handle all types of waste.

How to Create Your Compost

Regardless of the composting method you choose, there are certain steps and principles to keep in mind for successful composting.

1. Choose the right location: If you are composting outdoors, find a level, well-draining spot with some shade. For indoor composting, select a location that is easily accessible but out of direct sunlight.

2. Select your materials: A healthy compost pile should have a mix of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials. Green materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings. Brown materials include dried leaves, cardboard, and paper. Avoid meat, dairy, and oily foods, as they can attract pests and create foul odors.

3. Layer your materials: Start your compost pile or bin with a layer of brown materials, followed by a layer of green materials. Repeat this layering process, ensuring that you maintain a ratio of about 3 parts brown materials to 1 part green materials.

4. Monitor moisture levels: Your compost pile should be moist, but not soggy. If it becomes too dry, add water or more green materials. If it's too wet, add more brown materials to help absorb excess moisture.

5. Turn your compost (for traditional composting): Turning your compost pile or bin regularly (every 1-2 weeks) will help aerate the materials and speed up the decomposition process.

6. Harvest your compost: When your compost has reached a dark, crumbly texture and smells earthy, it's ready to be used in your garden. This can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the composting method and conditions.

Using Your Compost

Once you have your finished compost, there are several ways to use it in your urban garden:

  1. As a soil amendment: Mix your compost into your garden beds or containers to improve soil structure, fertility, and water retention.

  2. As a top dressing: Sprinkle a thin layer of compost on top of the soil around your plants to provide a slow-release source of nutrients.

  3. As a potting mix: Combine compost with other ingredients, such as coconut coir or perlite, to create a nutrient-rich potting mix for your container plants.

By following this guide, you can create nutrient-rich soil for your urban garden and enjoy the many benefits of composting. Not only will you be reducing waste and your environmental impact, but you'll also be providing your plants with the nutrients they need to thrive. So, start your composting journey today and watch your urban garden flourish!

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