Composting is one of the most efficient ways to use food scraps (zero-waste), nourish your own garden, and take steps towards self-sufficiency. And it’s entirely possible to do it effectively while living in suburbia–with zero complaints from your neighbors. Here’s how.
1. Compost in a Tumbler
For most suburban homeowners, a tumbler designed for compost is the most efficient option to keep smells contained and critters out. Some composting tumblers have multiple bins for compost in different stages of development. Some sit on the ground on a tumbling base, while others are suspended on a stand and tumble in the air. Any of these options will last for years, providing a high output of compost without taking up much space.
Also keep in mind that you might want to check your HOA’s bylaws if you live in a homeowner’s association, and in strict neighborhoods you’ll probably want to keep your compost tumbler or bin on the down-low.
2. Explore Vermiculture Options
It might sound a little unsettling, but vermiculture–worm farming–is an incredibly space-efficient way to generate rich compost for your garden. The worms do all the work for you, and you just feed them food scraps. Vermiculture takes up less space than traditional composting; some apartment owners even have worm farms indoors. You won’t have any unpleasant odors if you do it right, but you will end up with rich worm castings that can be used to amend your indoor or outdoor soil.
3. Build An Enclosure for an Open Compost Area
Composting doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t require a huge up-front investment. Building a simple compost enclosure requires a little more care to keep the ratios correct and discourage area wildlife from coming to munch on your melon rinds. But even in suburbia, compost enclosures built from pallets, chicken wire, or 2×4’s can be incredibly effective. You’ll need to consider the best part of the yard to add a compost pile like this–including the amount of sunlight it will receive. A quick Google search will yield plans for a huge array of low-cost DIY options.
4. Pay Attention to Your Ratios
Compost is very forgiving. But if you get the rations dramatically “off,” you could end up with a rather smelly compost bin or pile that seems to take ages to decompose. You’ll need a combination of “greens” and “browns” in your compost to allow the right microorganisms to thrive. “Greens” refer to materials with a high nitrogen or protein component; these include vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells, and grass clippings. “Browns” are pieces like dried leaves, pine needles, corn husks, sawdust, paper, and other dry, inactive matter. Most experts recommend a 3:1 or 4:1 brown:green ratio.
5. Know What NOT to Compost
Although all animal and plant products will eventually biodegrade, there are some things you simply don’t want in your home compost, particularly if you live in the suburbs. Meat, fat, and dairy products always smell foul as they decompose, and they take much longer to break down than plant matter. If you’re determined to compost absolutely everything you can, you might want to look into a bokashi fermenting system, which produces usable compost faster than any other method.
Have questions about composting in your area or need troubleshooting help? Try contacting your local extension agent or gardening group to help you out!