8

We live in a townhouse with a "backyard" that is 20ft x 15ft, with raised garden beds along 2 sides of the fence that extend out to 4ft. We grow the typical tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, and a small patch of alpine strawberries. My wife collects the dead plant matter and tosses it in the dumpster which makes me uneasy since I view it as fuel for the garden. We also toss out about half a pound of plant matter per month from cooking or left overs that sat in the fridge too long.

I'm wondering if all the plant matter could be composted in a small bin in the backyard with limited odor. I'm stressing 'plant matter' since any other biological matter might make an odor unpleasant for my family and the neighbors.

6

I suggest you look into vermicomposting. One great reference is RedWormComposting.com. Basically, vermicomposting is like regular composting, except you are using composting worms. There are different types, but you'll want the red wrigglers. Those are the same red wrigglers you can buy for fishing bait. They're scientific name is Eisenia fetida.

You can't just use worms out of your garden, because those types of worms not only don't do well with temperature swings, but they're mostly solitary, going over a small territory. Red wrigglers on the other hand love to be clumped together and do well with hot and cold temps. The benefit for a small area like yours is that the worm compost/casting (aka worm poop) that you get off of them is an extremely good fertilizer and you should actually cut it with regular soil when planting. Someone with a little more experience than me can chime in, but I don't think they will burn your plants roots if over done, the way a chemical fertilizer like miracle grow might do.

Other benefits are that you can keep them in the house. A properly maintained bin should have no smell. You can add all kinds of kitchen waste to feed them, more than you might put in a straight compost pile. You can also make worm tea from the casting as well. This is great to water you plants with.

I won't go into any more detail as there is are multiple books of info on the subject, but I think this is a great alternative for green minded people with little space. You get more bang for your buck, so to speak. More so that a small amount of composting will get you. You could also make a small compost pile and feed that into your worm bins.

I started on a slightly bigger scale. I started last year with a 100gal Rubbermaid horse tank that was cracked beyond repair. I drilled a bunch of air holes. I try to check on them once a week, but they really don't need anything. I spray them down with a hose when the top starts looking dry, but that's about it. I've currently got more scraps than they can eat and the only thing I've dumped in there in over a month are the cuttings and leaves that I clean off the top of the mower deck every week or so. Good luck and I hope this helped.

  • Thank you for the great information and direction, Dalton, along with everyone else. – Jonathan Jun 17 '16 at 3:21
4

A good way to make small quantities of compost is to use heavy-duty (and non-bio-degradable!) plastic garbage bags, say 30-gallon size. Fill the bag with equal volumes of "brown," "green," and earth. Ideally, add a bit of compost from another source, to kick-start the colony of bacteria. If the material is dry, add some water as well.

Seal the bag so it is airtight and leave for about 6 to 8 weeks. Either leave the bag outside in the sun to provide heat (so long as it is somewhere where it won't be punctured, and preferably sheltered from rain and wind), or you can keep it in a basement, garage, etc, in winter.

If you don't over-fill the bag, you can mix up the contents (about every 2 weeks) without opening it, unless it is too wet and everything inside is stuck together.

If some of the material hasn't decomposed in 8 weeks, or the contents don't smell nice, just re-seal it and wait longer. Don't add new material - you are trying to make one batch at a time, not operate a continuous process.

If you end up with an evil-smelling sticky mess, the initial mixture was wrong (usually either too wet or too much "green"), but you can still bury it in a trench in your garden. It will break down and improve the soil quality eventually, though it might take a year or longer.

If you don't have enough material even for this small scale, you would be better off trying something else like vermiculture, or just dig disease-free and weed-free vegetable waste direct in the garden and send the rest to landfill. (Proper composting generates temperatures that are high enough to kill most disease-carrying organisms and weed seeds - a good compost heap can heat up to 50 degrees C or more).

Incidentally, some local councils in the UK collect compostable material as part of their recycling schemes and supply the compost free on a "collect-it-yourself" basis (bring your own bags and shovel!) That is the easiest way to process a regular but small supply of compostable waste.

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If you can't build a compost pile of 1 cubic meter in size, you won't be about to retain the heat that characterises a hot compost pile. So, you end up with a cold pile that takes about a year to decompose, and does not remove weeds, and seeds. But, you do keep more nitrogen which would otherwise be oxidised and leaked back in to the air.

The smell is not related to size but constituent matter, and aeration. If you have equal amounts of mature, and immature plant material, you should be fine. If you have too much immature material, or nitrogen sources, you risk a smelly anaerobic pile.

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I think it is always a good idea to compost plant matter and reuse it in your garden. It is generally recommended that you have a large enough compost bin (3 ft x 3 ft minimum) for best results but if space is a concern or if you don't have enough material to compost, then you can always work with smaller size bins (or stacks). I know some people that are using much smaller bins for composting and are happy with the results.

In terms of odor, you need to make sure you have a good mix to avoid any type of odor. As long as you have a good fix of greens and browns in your compost bin, odor should not be an issue. Also, having a closed bin helps in that situation. I avoid throwing in meat or processed food mainly due to concern around attracting rodents.

Another thing you could consider is burying the plant matter (assuming you don't have much) into the vegetable garden and let it do its work naturally.

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