Urban Home Composting
I was planning on starting my compost heap a few weeks ago, but unfortunately my backyard has been covered in snow and ice all this month, which wasn’t really conducive to composting, or anything else for that matter. It’s all thawed out now, so I can now begin my first step to recycling my kitchen waste.
Now ideally, I’d be the owner of a sprawling estate, and I’d have plenty of free land to dedicate to my gardening, and of course I would reserve a chunk of space for a large compost heap which I would just leave out in the open at the mercy of the elements and regularly dump more of my trash on… I don’t have that. I have a petite backyard which also serves as a parking space for my brother’s car, a pepper-growing patch for my dad, and an outdoor party space for all of my relatives, so I don’t think a smelly massive compost heap would be practical. Most New Yorkers don’t even have this, so I should count my blessings. This compost heap will therefore have those with some serious space restrictions in mind.
Since we are on the topic of waste, it should be good to mentioned the fact that the amount of food waste N.Y.C. households produce on average is nearly double the National household average, measuring 7.1 pounds a week compared to 4.1 (2004-2005 NYC Residential and Street Basket Waste Characterization Study). This is a real shame since this number can be easily reduced through composting along with changes in household habits. I think I really ought to take a second to stress the latter, since I should admit that I sometimes tend to buy and cook more food than I’ll ever be able to eat and ultimately end up throwing it away. So by just taking the time to make sure I’m only buying and cooking the amount of food that I know I can eat, I’ll be doing quite a bit to reduce the amount of food waste I produces. Doing this should also have the wonderful effect of saving me plenty of green, which certainly comes in handy in these times when money is so tight and food prices continue to skyrocket. Who knows, maybe the money I save over time can be used as a down-payment for that new hybrid car I’ve been hankering for, which will definitely help the economy as well as the environment J
So OKAY, I’m aware of my wasteful food habits and I’ve begun altering them, as for the food scraps that I’m still creating, I shall return my attention to that compost heap and the small backyard. Well my compost heap won’t be a heap since I don’t have the space for that. It’ll have to be a bin, and I don’t have the space for a massive bin, so It’ll have to be a petite bin. When it comes to petite compost bins, just about any relatively large container can do. A trash can with some holes drilled into it, a large laundry basket, or my favorite a milk crate which I got from my local grocer. It’s tiny but extremely functional and didn’t cost me a thing (do ask your grocer if they have a crate to spare before you go and grab one, cause they might just start disliking you if you take one without asking). If you do decide to make your own compost bin you might want to cover it to keep the squirrels, pigeons, rats and other critters out of it and be sure to drill some holes into the cover to let rain water in, otherwise you’ll have to remember to add water to your bin to keep the compost moist.
These bins might seem fairly small and to be honest, they are. Like I said most NYC residents don’t have much space, so a large compost bin is just not feasible, it’s either a small compost bin or none at all. With a compost bin of this size, however, I most likely won’t be able to compost all the kitchen scraps I produce, but I believe every bit helps, so I’m not going to give in to an “all or nothing” mentality and give up on this endeavor. I’ll compost as much of my kitchen and household waste as my bin allows and once the compost is ready I’ll remove it from the bin to make room for more composting.
With that said, what are the requirements and needs of my mini-urban compost bin. I’ve already noted that every compost been needs water. It’ll also need plenty of food. With the exception of meats, fish, and fatty foods, such as cheese and butter, I can put just about any kind of kitchen waste into my compost bin. This includes used tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shell, fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as other household waste such as shredded newspaper, dried leaves and grass clippings. When I place my kitchen scraps into the compost bin, I’ll definitely cover it up with plenty of leaves and dirt (I don’t have any grass in my yard, so no grass clippings for me) in order to minimize any odors which might attract some extremely unwanted guests like those mutant NYC jumbo rats that are always roaming around my neighborhood looking for an easy meal.
As soon as I catch one, I’ll also definitely throw a worm or two into my bin, since they aid in the decomposition process (I’m happy to say I recently completely removed worms, slugs, and snails from my list of bugs which I am deathly afraid of… roaches and water bugs, however, are still very much on the top of that list and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon!). Stirring frequently to aerate it, I should have plenty of great quality compost within 6 to 12 month which I plan to use for both my indoor and outdoor plants. I’m specifically looking forward to slathering some on the bottom of the Roma Tomato plants I’m planning on growing in the yard this summer next to my dad’s peppers. If this has made composting seem remotely alluring to you, there’s plenty of more information available at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/compost.pdf
You can get valuable tips as well as troubleshooting advice from the NYC Department of Environmental Conservation Guide’s “Everything You Have Ever Wanted to Know About Home Composting”.
Maria Isabel Olivera
Next Installment: Urban Indoor Gardening