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YES! But How? :: Composting in Small Spaces

I don’t have much of a yard. Can I still compost?

The YES! Worm Bin

Composting helps keep food waste out of landfills, reduces your individual carbon footprint, and provides extra nutrients to gardens. And you don’t have to live on a vast acreage, or even have a yard at all, to set up your own composting system.

Apartment dwellers can collect table scraps in a small bucket near the sink and empty the bucket into the green yard-waste bins provided by many city recycling programs. If your town’s yard-waste service doesn’t accept food scraps, check around for neighbors or community gardens that would welcome a small weekly addition to their compost piles.

Feeling more ambitious? Construct a small, covered worm bin indoors. Bins can be made from wood or plastic, as long as the materials have never been treated with chemicals and the bin has adequate ventilation. Composting worms can be mail-ordered from gardening catalogues or purchased at a local bait shop (ask for red wigglers). Line your bin with a layer of cool moist bedding, like shredded newspaper, cardboard, or leaves, and bury food scraps throughout the bin.

Worms won’t waste any time digesting your leftovers into nutrient-rich compost—generally a pound of worms can digest about a half-pound of food each day. Nor are they picky eaters—they’ll chow down on eggshells, coffee grounds, and even coffee filters. However, you should NOT feed them meat, animal bones, dairy products, oil and grease, or any kind of fecal matter.

The simplest compost system, if you have a good-sized yard, is a single pile, layered with food and yard waste, to allow for aeration. You can buy a bin or make one yourself: Three feet square is a good starting size. If you’re not worried about neatness, start a heap on the ground—no bin needed.

Green-thumbed composters can also try trench composting. Dig an 8-inch hole or trench, fill with about 4 inches of food scraps, then top with the soil you removed and douse thoroughly with water. It takes about a year for trench compost to break down fully, so it’s a good idea to build your trench next to an existing garden row. This will provide nutrients to neighboring plants while your food scraps are still busy breaking down.

Helpful Web sites include web.extension.uiuc.edu/homecompost/methods.html, urbanext.illinois.edu/worms/neighborhood/index.html, and whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/easywormbin.htm.


Berit Anderson wrote this article for America: The Remix, the Spring 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Berit is an editorial intern at YES!

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