DIY Composting on your balcony

April 18 ,2014 BY Nova Nelson

Composting on your balcony can be a little tricky without ground soil surface and much space. My balcony composting experience has not always been easy. But I’ve kept at it and today gives me enough to keep my edible garden going. I use what is easily available to me within the urban context from my kitchen wastes to dried leaves which I gather while on walks with my dog. The current bin I use is a DIY bin and I am still learning and finding ways to get better at composting especially in my small urban garden.

5 steps to help you compost on your balcony


Step 1: Prepare your DIY compost bin.

  • Source 2 plastic bins with lids, of the same size and can be stacked into each other. Try and get bins at least 3 feet high and wide so you have sufficient capacity
  • Create aeration and drainage – drill holes at the top sides and at the bottom of bin A. Add a layer of gravel at the bottom of the bin for added drainage.
  • Keep the bugs out – Use a mosquito net and glue it against the holes at the top sides of bin A.
  • Once the holes are ready stack bin A into bin B.

Here are some quick sketches of how I put my bins at home together.

Step 2: Start separating your waste

As a start focus on what is immediately accessible and available to you in your urban setting or at home. Examples of household waste you can use for composting:

  1. Greens (Source of Nitrogen is usually wet, slimy, green and dense helps microbes reproduce rapidly in your compost pile) : Fruit and vegetable peels, green garden clippings, freshly mowed grass, boiled barley seeds, access cooked rice, coffee grinds (great source of Nitrogen even though it is brown).
  2. Browns (Source of Carbon is usually bulky, dried and course, it provides the texture, mass and give rise to humus in compost) : Finely shreded Newspapers, Cardboard, Dried leaves from your roadside, Tea leaves, sugar cane waste, paper cups without any plastic lining.
  3. Others source of minerals and activators to help your heap: Crushed egg shells, molasses, used coffee grounds (you can easily get them from coffee chains), yogurt mixed with water.

Avoid bird, dog and cat feces. You can use rabbit droppings if you rear rabbits at home.

Step 3: Get your Carbon to Nitrogen ratio right

As a rule of thumb keep your pile at a mix of 3 Carbons to 1 Nitrogen. Precession is unnecessary. But practice is. With a little practice you will get a feel of what the best combination will be. The general ratio will make sure you do not end up with a pile that is too soggy, dry and one that does not heat up.

With the right critical mass and carbon to nitrogen ration, your pile will heat up. A good pile heats up and kills weeds and pathogens in your pile. It will also speed up the composting process. You can feel the heat when you mix it up. But please bear in mind composting in smaller quantities does not create the critical mass needed for the pile to heat. The other factor is the size of your organic materials. Do not dump large leaves and pieces of organic material, this will slow down the composting process.

Step 4: Add some moisture

You want a moist pile not a soggy, water logged pile. You should be able to squeeze the pile with only a drop of water dripping from it. If it is too moist it will not heat up and access water at the bottom of your pile will stop air in leaving your pile anaerobic and stinky.

Step 5: Turn the pile once a while

With our weather it will take about 10 weeks for a compost pile to be ready. The smaller your brown items are, with good heat and sufficient organic materials, the faster the process. Nature will do the work for you all you have to do is check in on your pile once a week or once every ten days or so. If you are traveling or are very busy don’t worry about the pile, the composting process will carry on much intervention.

When you check your pile look out for :

  1. Smell, does it smell earthy or is it rancid? It should not smell sour, that means there is not enough air and too much moisture. You can add some fine dried leaves and aerate it by turning the heap. If it is too rancid, I would suggest putting your uncooked compost into a pot and place a nice think layer of soil on it. Do not grow anything in it. Just give it a couple of weeks and let the microbes from the soil fix the problem.
  2. Heat, smaller piles generally do not generate as much heat for long periods of time. But there are a few things you can do to regenerate heat – add some greens and coffee grounds and make sure the pile is not too wet.
  3. Moisture, if it is too wet add some browns, too dry add some greens and sprinkle water.
  4. Colour and texture, it is ready when the organic matter is broken down finely, the colour is a deep dark brown and the heat is gone.


Nova Nelson

Nova Nelson started Cultivate Central in 2013 after transitioning from a career in Corporate Communications, content creation and community engagement. As a Permaculture Designer she believes a city filled with vibrant, ecological and compact urban gardens will create socially and environmentally connected communities. As a mother she is passionate about exploring Permaculture with children and their communities. She serves clients and communities in Malaysia, where she was born and Singapore where she currently resides.

Ready for free resources?

Ideas, tips and other great material to help you create your urban garden - right to your inbox
Top