From space constraints to to foul odors, composting in the city isn’t easy, so take matters into your own hands.
Composting is an efficient way to create a self-reliant system where kitchen scraps and yard waste are broken down and transferred back into the soil. The process is simple, but urban dwellers might have their own set of unique challenges composting in close quarters to neighbors. Laura Matter, Garden Hotline program coordinator for Seattle Tilth, points out a few of the issues they might have to contend with while turning their waste into a valuable garden amendment.
If your compost smells, typically this means your compost pile has too much green matter, which can include fresh kitchen waste and green grass clippings.
"The higher the nitrogen, the higher the smell potential,” Matter says.
To remedy the problem, include an adequate amount of brown materials, such as dried leaves or straw. You’ll also want to chop everything you add to the pile as small as you can, and turn it frequently—Matter recommends once a week, if possible. The more you do, the faster you’ll have beautiful compost to add to your garden.
If smell becomes too big a problem for you or your neighbors, you might consider another composting strategy.
"We like to tell people to think about food and yard waste in separate settings,” Matter says. Food waste in a traditional compost system is often the cause of unpleasant odors. If this is a problem you face, she recommends composting the food waste in a worm bin or food digester.
A worm composter can be built from easily purchased materials, such as plastic storage containers, to create a simple system. You add kitchen scraps to a base of shredded newspaper and cardboard to provide the proper environment for the red wigglers, which chow down on your food scraps.
"[Red wigglers] live in leaf litter on the forest floor. They are not a soil worm,” Matter says. As long as you keep them happy in a space where they’re not too hot or cold, they make quick work of most food waste with practically no odor. Because they take up very little space, worm bins can be kept practically anywhere you would place a kitty litter box.
You can make a simple food digester by drilling holes in the bottom third of a garbage can (preferably metal to keep out wildlife). Partially bury the bin, so the holes are covered, toss in kitchen scraps, and cover with the lid. There is more smell associated with this type of composter, but it is contained by the lid.