I am writing this story from my canal boat in London. It’s just 19 meters long and 2 wide, shared with my wife and our cat. While there are many quirks to converting to an off-grid life in a city, one of my favourites is our composting project.
I started composting kitchen scraps three years ago when I rented a house in America. I love gardening and wanted to do more for the planet, and it seemed like a waste to be sending valuable nutrients to mix with the poisons that wind up in landfills. But the city composting program was expensive to participate in! So I took it into my own hands.
I collected free old tires from a car shop, stacked them in the backyard, and covered them with a sheet of metal I found. I Googled how kitchen scraps turn into dirt and discovered it wasn’t all that mysterious. All you have to do is keep your compost piles vegan and add garden scraps. Keep an eye on it and stir it sometimes. I added a second tire-stack so the first could decompose while the second gets filled up, and so on. It was a backyard of second chances; the old car tires got a new life as well as the food waste and scrap metal. Some friends were curious and I built some for them too. Now they are compost converts!
There is less space on the boat, but we have a little circular ecosystem. First we collect our scraps in a jar in the kitchen and when full, it goes into one of three bins on the roof of the boat, which we rotate between. I’m fascinated by the decomposition—the bins become their own mini ecosystems of odd molds and funky mushrooms and different bugs, which changes depending on how far along the contents are. When food scraps are balanced with plant scraps (tea leaves, dead plants, spent flowers and such), there’s no bad smell.
Then when a bin looks like soil, we add it to the planter boxes on our roof. We grow flowers, vegetables and herbs. Through the seasons our compost bin is fed with various plants when they die, to nourish next year’s batch. Some are determined and seeds make it through the process: we get a few squash plants poke through the soil from our leftovers the year before and they flourish. It goes to show that what we think of as ‘waste’ continues to have value long after we are done with it: nature itself doesn’t waste a thing.
Composting is so oddly exciting to me, and it’s catching. My wife now loves it almost as much as me, and after her mother’s first visit to our boat home, she was so intrigued by the process that she’s started her own compost pile back in Albania. Composting your leftovers can be easy, free, and rewarding, and it’s possible even if you only have the smallest of spaces. Try it – you’ll be converted too!