Composting in the Suburbs

american-suburbiaI currently live in an urban apartment complex. I have a small compost pile in the wooded area on the side of a hill that no one even notices. I cover it with leaves. When I lived down the street in a house with a large back yard, I had a compost bin. I am an experienced composter.

The bin I had was a 4′ x 8′ rectangle. The sides were the height of 3 2″ x 12″ pieces of lumber. The bin was already there when we moved to the house. The 4′ x 8′ x 3′ rectangle shaped compost bin was open to the ground, and open to the sky. The eaves of a shed allowed the roof drip line on one side to drip into the bin.

In this one easy, simple bin, I composted all of the compostable paper that came into our home. At the time, my wife was a national sale manager for a major company, and worked from our home. We received countless shipping boxes and large amounts of mail that was all composted. In addition, I composted the neighbor’s daily newspaper, and thousands of bags of leaves from the neighborhood. In peak leaf season, I used a few neatly spaced and neatly kept woven wire chest-high circles like tomato cages only wider, and did some sheet composting.

For the green component – the nitrogen source – in this large home compost operation, I used the food scraps from the commercial kitchen/deli where I worked and our home kitchen scraps. The deli scraps amounted to one or two 15-gallon Rubbermaid totes per day. Occasionally, I would use green grass clippings from neighbors that I knew personally. I also started with a handful of red wigglers and was quickly able to give starter red wigglers free to five or six folks every month at the garden club meetings.

It is possible to compost slick paper (magazines), and the colored newspaper inserts. I chose to not include these items and also did not compost slick printed cardboard. The key to composting the newspaper and office paper is to make sure the paper is thoroughly wet prior to laying it on the ground, or as a layer in the bin. I soaked the paper overnight in a 30-gallon trashcan filled with water. I sometimes added some nitrogen to the water at quarter strength.

The worms love the wet newspaper and the corrugated cardboard. The corrugated cardboard has built in aeration, and needs to be wet, but not as wet as the office paper and newspaper. Soaking the paper changes the chemistry of the paper.

The slick paper seemed to work well in the papercrete blocks I made. We sold the property where I had used several blocks in a terraced area and I do not know how they weathered.

I took current magazines to the library, the hospital, and saved some for a teacher friend.

I started at one end and worked to the other end of the bin and back to the start end. Once the worms built up in mass and numbers, I hardly ever turned the bin. The materials would sometimes get hot in areas but not in general. I made sure the layer on the ground had coarse material covering the ground. It is important to monitor moisture daily, and water as needed in the same manner you water and feed the garden. When I sprayed compost teas and my fish emulsion and liquid kelp mix on the garden, I would also spray the compost bin (and the leaf circles, when I had them).

The point is I was able to easily make a large to massive amount of soil amendment in an urban backyard, in a neat manner that did not offend my wife who liked things to look neat and orderly.

I was also able to avoid buying firewood. I took the oak tree trimmings at the curbs, and cut them to firewood length and dried the logs in a storage area that was 3′ x 8′ x 4′. The brush went to the bottom ground level of the compost bin.

Aside – I had an acquaintance that had a privacy-fenced back yard with truck access at the back. She had the contractor build two back fences 10-12 feet apart. From the kitchen and from the alley both it looked like suburbia. In “the space,” she had her compost bins, the tomato cages she was not using at the time, a potting/produce processing table, and a low roofed shed for the lawn tools and mower. She had a neat medium size garden in her back yard.


Thanks to S. R. Sawyer for participating in the [Grow] Network Writing Contest. We have over $1,500 in prizes lined up for the current writing contest, with more to come. Here is a list of the current pot of prizes:

– A 21.5 quart pressure canner from All American, a $380 value
– A Survival Still emergency water purification still, a $279 value
– 1 year of free membership in the [Grow] Network Core Community, a $240 value
– A copy of The Summer of Survival Complete Collection from Life Changes Be Ready, a $127 value
– 2 copies of the complete Home Grown Food Summit, valued at $67 each
– 3 free 3 month memberships in the [Grow] Network Core Community, valued at $60 each
– The complete 2014 Grow Your Own Food Summit interview series, a $47 value
– 4 copies of the Grow Your Own Groceries DVD video set, valued at $42 each
– A Bug Out Seed Kit from the Sustainable Seed Company, a $40 value
– 4 copies of the Alternatives To Dentists DVD video, valued at $32 each

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2 Comments
  • terri jo

    That is the way to feed Mother Earth! Yes you are showing the way for us “urban rats” haha – TY!

  • Mel

    Perfect, so glad it’s working out for you. I’m in the ‘burbs too and find room for my bins. 😉

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