4 Tips for Composting in the Urban Backyard

compost bin
This is an older post from when Wendie and I lived in the city- I thought it was appropriate for today.

Scraping the dishes into the trash is costing you money. It may be only $100 a year if you live alone and have a small patio planter, but if you have an average family of four and even a slightly larger garden space, it could be closer to $1500. Wow. In this crummy economy, that's money down the drain. It's time to recoup your investment by making a bold, yet simple, decision. Put your kitchen waste in a compost bin!

Composting with a Compost Bin

Like many urban gardeners, we have shrubs, hosta, and planters of flowers to spruce up our property. And though we do have a larger garden on a family plot out in the country for the canning larder, I found I can keep a smaller kitchen garden in my backyard for any immediate needs. 

In the past, I've enjoyed growing various herbs and tomato plants in pots. I keep two strawberry patches, some raspberry and blackberry bushes, as well as grapevines along the back fence. I only wish I had space for more!

Now, keeping healthy plants at the house takes time, effort, and great soil -- and in the city, you can bet that last ingredient isn't coming out of the ground. Buried construction rubble, lead pipes, and what-have-you seem to be unearthed the deeper I dig. This is why I started to compost, and if I were to purchase gardening soil, it could get expensive at $10 for each small bag. 

No matter what the advertising says, none of the commercial brands have everything a plant needs to thrive, so you then need to add in the expensive supplements, fertilizers, peat moss, and vermiculite for aeration and moisture retention. However, you can bet your compost will do its job without the 'extra' needs. It's all right there in the recipe!

Choose Your Compost Bin

compost bin
Many places sell compost bins made from recycled material. But dear gardener, I implore you -- buy local instead of at the big box stores. Being a better gardener, and I would argue, a better person, starts with how you choose to spend your dollar. 

I tend to purchase most of my gardening supplies at my local Agway, part a network of independently own farm and gardening stores. 

There is a simple dealership locator on the homepage that will help you find a location near you. Now, the compost bin I chose was a Keter E-Composter that I was able to pick up for around $60, but some of the more heavy duty tumblers can run you up to $300. Made of recycled plastic, the black color collects heat well to cook your stew, and it looks nice in the garden as well.

There are some, of course, who choose to build their own compost receptacles using a series of wooden pallet constructions, but that requires them the back-breaking labor of forking over material from one stage to another every few weeks. This is an open air form of composting, and it works great if you have a lot of land, plenty of time, and a strong back, but for my urban gardening, I found it impractical.

In a pinch, or in an apartment/deck setting, you could even use industrial grade black trash bags. Just be sure to turn the material. Other folks use large tote containers or trash barrels by peppering the unit with 1/8" holes in the top, sides, and bottom for aeration and drainage. Smaller bins, faster results!

What Makes Up a Compost Recipe

 Simply, it is an equal mixture of green and brown materials. Green materials include grass clippings, pulled weeds that haven't seeded, teabags, coffee grounds, vegetable and grain kitchen scraps; if something can eat it, it's green. 

Browns include leaves, hay, shredded cardboard, paper towels, newspaper, and sawdust. Basically, your selection is made up of items that once were alive, and would be frowned upon by carnivores. In general, don't add in meats, fats, or animal waste. These will stink up your compost pile faster than a paranoid skunk on LSD.

Helping Your Compost Stay Healthy

If well-balanced with greens and browns, you're at a good starting point. Keep the pile warm and moist, and turn regularly. If you let it sit, you might see results in a year or two- but if you turn daily, even a few shovelfuls at a time, you could see results within weeks! Some folks sprinkle in a bit of organic compost helper, like Bonide Compost Maker, or Ringer Compost Plus

I've had success with both products in the past, and can ethically recommend them. These products add zing into the compost mixture to help the micro-environment nourish. The concoctions are made up of billions of beneficial organisms that break down your bin's materials. Once in a while I will sprinkle some in to my own bin, just to aid the process along.

Good Composting Habits

compost recipe
Keep the area around you compost bin clean and neat. Pull weeds and pick up stones - after all, a pleasant spot in the garden receives more traffic. You can consider your daily compost run a moment of zen!

Turn your compost pile every day - but not the entire pile. When you add scraps, open the front door and pull out a few shovel fulls to lay on top of your recent deposit. Stir up the top, bringing the corners to the middle. Keep this up, and you'll see your black gold flourish!

Water lightly when your mixture looks dry; you want it damp, but not drenched and muddy. Think ''misty.''

Be a fanatic about collecting feeder waste -- every little bit helps by going back into your garden and staying out of a landfill!

Price garden soil when you visit your local garden center, and congratulate yourself on how much money you've just saved.

Share your discovery with friends, and pass along the composting bug! 

We love sharing our homesteading life with you all, even these old urban lessons that brought us to where we are today. Please join the conversation below with your compost bin strategies and compost recipe tips, and don't forget to subscribe for more homesteading goodness!