Open-Air Patio Composting: A Politics of Refuse/Refusal

Earth Day Everyday!

 20150315_160741  What is open-air patio composting? Is it even ‘a thing?’

I’m not sure if open-air patio composting (OAPC?) is ‘a thing’ or not, but it is a thing I’ve been doing now for at least two years from my condo balcony in Glendale, CA. If you live in an apartment or condo (perhaps not at ground level) this may be the best option for you to get started composting! If you are on ground level, consider the access unwelcome critters may have to your compost (raccoons and skunks in particular). We live on the second floor and so far I have had no unwelcome guests aside from the occasional outbreak of fruit flies and a few spiders.

Patio composting is basically composting, only on your patio and in a smaller context. The open air part is pretty self-explanatory, which is to say that my compost is not covered by any container lid, but is instead exposed to the open air. Lids I’m sure are great! I imagine that they hold in heat and they keep pesky flies away, however, because I started composting on a whim using random pots and without making any extra purchases (until my worms), lids were not things I had laying around.  Thus, no lids. Open-air.




Doesn’t this smell?

Nope. If you do not put any meat or dairy in your compost and manage your watering, there should be no smell. Compost smells like dirt.




A lifestyle and a politics?

Indeed. However, when I say politics, I am not referring to the simple and insufficient binaries we often associate with “U.S. politics” such as, republican vs. democrat, right vs. left, and/or sacred vs. secular.  Politics are anything and everything that shape our collective world. Everything is political when you think about it, including the sacred, the spiritual, and the personal. As we often see, the disconnects/disassociations are hard and messy to navigate. Alas, for the sake of this conversation on composting, the personal/individual actions ARE political actions, especially when it moves beyond the individual to effect our collective world (which it does). Thus, open-air patio composting or OAPC is both a lifestyle and a politics. Moreover, it is a politics of refuse/refusal, an intentional and political refusal of the insufficient, broken, and dangerous structures of waste-management (both nationally and internationally). When one refuses to participate in these structures they immediately effect measurable changes. This refusal opens up new and generative possibilities for waste-management. For example—-> compost (the example of the hour).

Now that I’ve got you convinced ;-)…


Here is what you will need:

  • One large pot or trash bin (I have several smaller ones too)
  • Some shredded paper, cardboard, or a few handfuls of dirt/soil
  • Kitchen scraps
  • WORMS (this will increase your production exponentially!)** Worms can be purchased at your local garden store.
  • Some people like to use Compost Starter. I have before and I’m not sure if it did anything, I have always had great compost, so it is hard to tell. Can’t hurt I guess!

** You can still get started, or compost without worms it just takes longer for things to break down

20150315_155102 20150417_184659

Here is what you do:

  1. Mix shredded paper or cardboard with a few handfuls of dirt. If you only have one, dampen (do not soak) and then place at the bottom of your pot.
  2. Add your worms and the entire contents of their packaging (bedding/dirt/etc).
  3. Place food scraps on top of the worms.
  4. Sprinkle compost starter (if you have it).
  5. Hang tight for a few days. Add water if things are looking dry.
  6. Add food scraps throughout the week to the top of the bin.
  7. Once a week, take a hand shovel and turn the scraps/compost.

Here are the things I compost regularly in my OAPC:

  • 20150315_085050-1coffee filters/grinds
  • any and all fruit scraps (strawberry tops, melon rinds, banana peels, orange peels etc.)
  • any and all veggie scraps (onion bits, potato and carrot peels, string bean ends, stalks, stems etc.)
  • tea bags
  • egg shells
  • wine corks
  • shells and pits
  • flower and plant clippings
  • dead leaves and buds from my patio garden
  • dust from vacuum or lint from laundry

(I’m sure I have forgotten a few)

20150315_155029We fill about 2 of these giant bowls per week. When I have time, I’ll leave the bowl on the counter and then dump or incorporate into my patio bins throughout the week as it gets full. If my outside bins are getting a little full and I don’t have time to move things around, we’ll stick this bowl in the freezer and continue to add things from there. Recently, I just picked up a worm cycler, another way to process more food scraps and harvest the rich result called castings (or worm poop). This stuff usually costs a fortune and is great as a natural/waste-free/toxin-free fertilizer AND a solution to white-fly infestations. But more on this new worm cycler in forthcoming blog posts! It’s all too easy not to do, really! Excited to show you how!

What to do with the finished compost:

20150315_155148I also have a patio garden (posts coming soon) so this helps me cycle through my fresh compost. I may have started my first compost attempt with a pot full of several cups of spent soil and then adding food scraps and worms– and this works too (easy peasy). Once my compost bin is producing dark rich compost, I usually start phasing it into another small pot where I plant something new or top off my other plants with nutrient rich compost.

20150417_184720There also may be a liquid that your bin is producing as well, and depending on the kind of container you have you may be able to use this “compost tea” to fertilize your patio garden, or gift to a friend/neighbor who has a garden. I set a cup beneath one of my raised bins, but honestly rarely check it anymore or use the compost tea as it is difficult to get to.

Hope this helps you get your head around the possibility of composting on your patio! Shoot me any questions you may have. As I said in my previous composting post– it is mostly trial and error. Be easy. Be flexible, and give it a try. Figure out what works for you!

Happy Composting OAPC-style!


6 thoughts on “Open-Air Patio Composting: A Politics of Refuse/Refusal

  1. zanygreenquest says:

    I have a small balcony but I literally have a wall of windows that sits next to that patio, which are the ones I open for air circulation. Then I have the challenge of it getting 100+ degrees out there in the summer. The only thing I’ve been able to keep alive are aloe and cactuses lol. I might play with the open air method soon and pray it doesn’t go wrong!

  2. Stephanie Sparling Williams says:

    You got this! If haven’t messed it up I’m sure that anyone could do it. 🙂 You might also want to try wormcycling. You can do this indoors! Working on another post about that now. You just need to purchase the container kit and worms. I got mine from the city and brought it home and had it up and running in 30 minutes. Super easy! Best of luck!

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