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Mar 8, 2010 12:36 PM

Urban Composting

I've been composting off and on for a couple of years, mostly depending on where I was living and how much space I had (last year composting in the community garden bins). But I've recently bought a home with a fairly small plot in a neighborhood, and I'm determined to find a more permanent solution to my composting woes.

What are other folks doing in relatively urban areas? I have a farmer friend who recommended just starting a pile behind the shed and covering it with sawdust (DH is a woodworker, so there's plenty of this avail), and said that she didn't think vermin would be a problem.... but that doesn't seem possible. And I'm suspicious of the bins- they sometimes seem to attract wasps etc.


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  1. Vermiculture is a good solution for urban areas. Some friends of mine who were major gardeners in a tiny, tiny spot had a worm compost bin right in their kitchen -- basically just a big rubbermaid tote with a passel of worms in it! You could stick your face down into the thing and it smelled like clean dirt and nothing else. There are some things worms don't eat but they sure make great compost.

    My grandpa covered his three-step compost pile with grass clippings and I don't recall him having a critter problem at all, oddly enough, so your farmer friend might be on to something!

    1. I built a triple bin compost bin out of concrete block. It will never rot and will last forever. I use two of the smaller bins for purchased mulch and potting mix. The largest bin collects all the yard waste. Works great!

      1. Here is a site with Composting info

        Some Starbucks bag up coffee grounds for people to take... this is a wonderful way to get things started. Coffee grounds actually burn, and turn to ash.

        It also helps to jump start the bacterial process... "Compost Starter" at garden centers are either Kelp based, or Urea Nitrogen. You can also apply your own Urea nitrate solution. ; )

        As long as you keep the compost aerated, moist, and a good mix, you cant go wrong.

        1. I bought a 30-gallon plastic trash can, drilled a bunch of holes all around the sides, then cut out the bottom with a reciprocatin saw. I also cut a "door" into it by cutting a segment out of the top. I turned it upside down, put the door' in place (held there by a couple of bricks), and covered the top with the plastic lid (also kept in place by another brick).

          It's not lovely, but it was cheap and it works. 5 years later it is still going strong. I keep a one-gallon plastic ice cream container in the kitchen to collect scraps (the lid is on loosely so it won't smell). Every day or so (or sometimes more often, if I'm cooking a lot) I take the scraps out to the bin. I usually add some ripped-up newspaper at the same time as I add the scraps, to keep the carbon/nitrogen mix in balance. Given the number of worms that are in there every time I take out some compost, it may be functioning more like a worm bin than as a true compost heap, but that's OK with me - I'm still recycling my garbage.

          I'm in zone 6, so in the dead of winter I sometimes store the scraps in the freezer and add them to the bin after things warm up a bit.

          We have a lot of skunks, possums, and raccoons in our urban neighborhood but they've never bothered with my compost. Too busy eating my tulip bulbs, perhaps. I did put a low beick wall (just stacked, no mortar) around the can to keep my dogs out but they don't seem to bother much with it either.

          2 Replies
          1. re: gimlis1mum

            Our city (Boston) sells Earth Machine composters at a greatly reduced rate, so we bought one a few years ago. It sits on a corner of our asphalt driveway, near the back "yard." The only critter problem we've ever had was when we had the composter located right next to the house.....mice/rats loved it and used it as a springboard to get into the house. Since we moved it about 10 feet away it's no longer a problem. Earth Machines are designed to be fairly critter proof.

            FWIW, when we had an indoor vermicomposting bin, we had tons of fruit flies. Perhaps because we were putting so many banana peels into it, I hear that they come pre-pregnated with fruit fly larvae.

            1. re: powella

              I'm in zone 4 and currently live in a relatively suburban area. However I have also lived in very urban areas in apartments. I too have an Earth Machine and have used the same one and moved with it for the last 17 years. The smallest area I've had to garden in was about 5' X 12'. The bin types work really well and I've never had a critter issue. The most visible critters we had in were in the most urban and they never bothered with the compost bin. Now we have skunks, raccoons, rabbits and foxes along with lots of smaller ones. I have both a bin type and open compost pile. The great thing about the compost is that as long as you keep the C/N balance and can mix it occasionally it is fabulous in a small garden or in container gardening. That is a good way to keep it rotating as well and always have room inn your compost bin to add more.

          2. this won't help you at all cause I'm not urban, just trying to once again start a compost pile in a composting bin from Lowe's.

            last year my husband bought me a heavy duty plastic composting container to use for my refuse. first the worlds biggest dog, ours :( thought it smelled dern good, then the wind the almighty wind, pulled it up and out of it's stakes and blew all over the yard. it's been replaced but all my good earth in there is who knows where. starting all over again with my tidbits of coffee/tea/egg shells/veggie scraps/lawn trimmings etc. hope I get some good quality compost from it.