You live in the city, or you’re in a suburban townhome with a postage-stamp yard. Or, maybe you’re an apartment dweller. Either way, you think you can’t compost without a big yard space. Start talking compost and we all conjure up images of rural yards with big bins, but lots of space isn’t necessary. You can compost with just a small balcony or tiny yard. If even that isn’t an option, there are a variety of indoor-composters available, or you could consider vermiposting (yes, worms). All you really need for composting is a container; there are a variety of commercially available and compact composters, but a sturdy trash can will do.
Composting is important, not just to provide a great soil amendment, but to help keep food scraps and yard clippings out of landfills. Compostable items decompose in a landfill environment and produce methane gas, not a good, or green thing. Composting converts garden and kitchen waste into magically wonderful and rich soil matter, it’s free, easy and it’s absolutely green.
Good compost is a mix of “brown,” or nitrogen-rich, materials and “green” materials and moisture. Brown items include shredded paper, cardboard, floor sweepings, brown paper bags, straw, and dry leaves. Green items include fresh grass trimmings, plant trimmings, spent flowers, kitchen scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds. There are some things, of course, that don’t belong in your compost. We’ve put together a list of some surprising compostables.
Turning, or mixing the compost will help speed things along, and bins placed in the sun will stay warmer, and heat is necessary for composting to happen. Organic waste needs water to decompose, so the bin contents need to stay moist. If the kitchen scraps and other green matter aren’t wet enough, and there isn’t enough rain to keep your bin going, you can add gray water from the shower, dishes or laundry (so long as you were using safe soaps). Your compost should feel about the same as a wrung-out sponge.
Check with local gardening centers, urban gardens, horticultural schools and even nurseries to get tips on composting in your area.
The big question, of course, isn’t just how to compost in the city, it’s what to do with the finished product. Your finished compost is a gardener’s dream, so what do you do with it all?
Short of sneaking around late at night to dump compost into urban landscaping, you can call those urban gardens, community gardens and CSAs or horticultural centers. They may be willing to take completed compost, or even compost in process. If you have space for a container garden, or potted plants, put your compost to good use there. Then call on your friends and neighbors and offer to share.
But what about bugs and the smell? Containers that have been specially made for indoor composting usually include anti-odor features like carbon filters or natural deodorizers. Worm composting actually doesn’t smell at all if it’s working right. It’s important to restrict input to the amount of food your worms will actually eat so there isn’t rotting food left in the bin.
Small pests are not a huge problem with composting. Keep a tight lid on indoor containers and keep the container in a secluded area. Keeping the balance of browns and greens right, and burying food waste in the pile will reduce pests as well.