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I've been looking around at various composting methods including worm bins, tumblers and plain old "piles". We live on a small suburban lot, and I need some guidance. Cost effectiveness and least amount of odor are top priorities. What would you suggest?

Tags: compost, fertilizer, vermicomposting

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I'm really looking forward to being about to start one. Other people have done it already and they are fantastic! I've seen only one with pictures. It would take forever to fill if you ever did and the compost to come out of it! I've checked prices and they are expensive upwards of $200 but the one woman lucked up and got hers for $15!

Aliza Ess said:
Wow, it's so great to see so many composters on here!

Cassandra, that 96 gallon tub sounds absolutely amazing. I'm using the 5 gallon bucket method myself. Works pretty well, I've finally learned to stop overloading the bin so it doesn't get wet & smelly.

Thanks for calling the ecology center Cornelia, I was starting to wonder if I should take the worms inside myself. I've insulated them with a whole lot of shredded paper so they're probably fine for another month, but then they'll have to come inside.
Composting on CNN.com - in the TECH section no less!?

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/10/22/composting/index.html

Although it seems more like an ad for Real Simple than real news.
My husband cut the bottom out of a rain barrel and we've been using that. He gives it a turn with a pitchfork every now and then. We don't really need to compost, as we live on a llama farm and there's always plenty of free fertilizer, but we do so anyway to reduce our contribution to the landfill.
The biggest key to success with any composting project is keeping your carbon (brown stuff) to nitrogen (green stuff) ratio correct. Ideally you want 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. An easy way to get this is to mix equal parts leaves and grass clippings. Most kitchen waste falls in the nitrogen category so if you were to add a pail of vegetable scraps you would want to add some leaves, straw, or other brown stuff.
If you find you have a smelly pile, three things might be the culprit. The first is anaerobic composting. This can be caused by too much nitrogen or too much water. You know how a pile of grass clippings starts to stink after a few days? That's anaerobic decomposition. The second cause may be that your pile isn't getting hot enough. If you are hardcore about your compost, you should get yourself a compost thermometer (it looks like a really long meat thermometer). Stick it in your pile and monitor your temp. If the temperature drops or stays the same over a period of days, turn your pile. This introduces more food to all the critters eating your pile and the temp. should rise. 130 degrees is what you're shooting for. Most plant pathogens and weed seeds are killed at this temp. The third cause may be compaction which can lead to the first two causes. Compost needs air. If your pile is larger than say 3x3x3 you should have something in the center to allow air in. Perforated drain pipe works well, or even a teepee of sticks.
And remember, unless you have a wicked hot pile, don't put ant meat or dairy in. Not only will it stink, you'll also have every raccoon within a five mile radius tearing apart your compost every night.
Depending on how small your space is, I've had good luck with bins built of pallets. Five pallets would give you two bins which makes turning easier. You can always find somebody who is lousy with pallets and will be happy to give you as many as you want.
And don't fall for the "compost starters" that most garden centers sell. You don't need them if your pile is constructed properly and who knows whats in that stuff. Good Luck!
$0.02 worth-
I've always been a fan of the aerobic composter (rotary composter). Sure, worms are fun but bacteria can do the same work with just a few cranks a day.
Hello Carrie, I am Vitoo here from Chennai City in INDIA. I am a Tea Planter with decades of practical knowledge in this field. I note what you write and I suggest that you try the VERMI_COMPOST Method of Composting, by using the locally available EARTH WORMS. You can either try it out using a Wooden Box, in case you don't have enough space. If space is not a constraint, then you can make a Small Dug out Pit on the ground of size 4'(L) & 4'(B) with a depth of 3'. Then you should try to spread some Cow Dung mixed with some green vegetation to a height of about 9" to 12" and thoroughly wet the mixture and let it be nicely moist. Then you should mix the live Earth Worms into this and the allow it for 4 to 5 days for the worms to get settled in the new surroundings. Please strictly ensure that you Cover the Bed properly by using thick dark Mat, so that the Temp.inside the bed is kept low. In case, the Ambient Temp.is high, then you have to spray some Water on the bed, in order to give the Worms the ideal conditions to activate. Then you could start putting another Layer of your Kitchen Waste mixed with some Green leaves of thickness of 1' and continue the Light Watering and using the Cow Dung and Green Leaves Mixture etc., process for about a Month and leave this Pit for about 70 Days to 9o Days for the Decomposition of the Biodegradable materials to take place. Then you can get your own Best Quality of Vermi Compost Manure from your own backyard, for your Garden use. In case, you require any more details or clarifications, please feel free to send me a Mail. Wish you good luck. Best regards.
Hi!

I'm an Agronomy student from Brazil. I work with composting since 2008.

I know that I'm posting this almost one year after you asked, but I have hope that you might still be interested in making a nice composting in your home.

My staff and I work teaching kids at public schools (In Brazil we have public and private schools) how to make a good non-smelling compost.

Would you still be interested?

Just e-mail me or answer to this reply and I'll make a very nice and personalized guide of how to make a fast, non-smelling, dry and clean composting.

For instance, I make it inside my small apartment, without any grows smell or anything =).

Here's a video of my professor Efraim Rodrigues (PhD in Harvard) showing to a brazilian Television his indoor composting . Also, there's one of my colleagues teaching kids how to do it with the food waste from the recess:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKYKUlWnCR8&feature=related

See you.

Rafael Perroni - raperroni@gmail.com
In my opinion vermiculture is the way to go. There is alot of info on the subject online.
We're MAJOR composters. We've even created a composter for pet waste (though it's admittedly more like a septic system).

We've tried just about everything, from piles to the black bins. We haven't done worm bins because of the sheer volume of stuff we have.

The black bins can make it very difficult to turn because if you use the side for leverage at all the bins will come apart. Piles are ok, but they have to be big enough to get hot.

What I've found to be the best composters are chickens. They shred and turn everything and add their own "materials" to it. Nice rich compost.
Hello Carrie,

I had been planning to try a worm bin at my apartment when one day it hit me. Worms live in the ground. So what I did was find a place that got a decent amount of sun, but wasn't too close to the building and made a pile of leaves. I added to that my kitchen scraps, and sure enough the worms came. Eventually so did rodents, so i had to make a little bin out of hardware cloth. But other than that, as long as you make sure that you keep a good balance of browns (leaves, straw, shredded newspaper) and greens (kitchen scraps) there is no smell, and the worms help break it down faster than regular composting would. Your native worms may not be the voracious eaters that the famed red rigglers are, but, they're free, and can come and go as they please. Therefore, if you forget to feed them, instead of dying off, they'll just look elsewhere for food.
In the South, anything other than a lively, hot pile will likely be taken over by Black Soldier Fly, which will eat the food and convert it into larval body mass, with a 10% or so residual liquid. Not good if your goal is to get a bulky soil amendment, but really much more efficient if your goal is to reduce waste in a very tiny area. The residual is every bit as good as a fertilizer as worm castings, but in the form of a liquid. Basically, they are the biological equivalent to an in-sink garbage disposal unit. Mature grubs have been used as meal for fish, chickens, birds and other bug-eating animals, and sold as fish bait.
There is a special composter product made just for the purpose of using BSF in this manner (Biopod). I just use a recycling tub which has drainage holes in the bottom and a cover with a screen ramp for them to crawl out on. The tub fertilizes whatever shrub or tree I place it next to. A healthy culture of BSF does produce an fragrance to it, but it doesn't go far and is more odd than offensive, except to other fly species.
I think I've found the right composter for me. A DIY tumbler composter for my urban backyard - made from a plastic barrel, an aluminum rod, two clamps, two pressure-treated 4x4 posts and some cement mix. Here's the video that inspired me:


Now...to find a barrel...

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