Compost Gift
December 18, 2008 6:29 AM   Subscribe

I want to give my wife the gift of compost...

My wife has been yearning to learn how to compost and I want to help her achieve this dream. We live in NYC and have a small yard, so we could use something outside. However I want to keep the vermin and smells down so as not to alienate the neighbors. We have a small patch of land so our garden aims are simple, so we don't need to produce a ton -- although we will share extra with anyone who wants.

Any suggestions on some practical stuff I can put under the tree this year?

posted by avrobie to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Check out Nature Mill (, I believe it can be used indoors and outdoors. I read about it on a blog a while ago and it sounds like it may be what you're looking for.
posted by perpetualstroll at 6:41 AM on December 18, 2008

Smells and vermin are non-issues if you do it right, and doing it right isn't very hard. There are a lot of plastic composting containers that would be appropriate for a small-scale operation and also make good gifts.
posted by jon1270 at 6:44 AM on December 18, 2008

What is it that you're going to be composting? If it's mostly kitchen waste, look into Bokashi composting. You buy specially treated bran, and use it to compost pretty much anything organic apart from bones. A normal compost heap has to be "vegetarian" - you can add fish, meat and dairy to it, but you'll get flies and vermin. Bokashi composting can handle all kitchen waste, because you basically add loads of bacteria to it, with no air.

It comes in the form of a bucket (about 20L, so you can keep it under the sink) with a tap, and you just add your leftovers, meat, fish heads, etc to it, as and when you need to. Cover over with a layer of the bran, replace the lid tightly, and that's it. It will need compressing slightly every time you use it, but an old jam jar takes care of that.

There is no smell from a well run bokashi system. I've run them for about a year, with no problems. The only time they've smelt is when I haven't drained the juice, which you can use to feed plants or neat as a drain cleaner. Depending on what you add, you might need to drain every couple of days, or every couple of weeks.

There is a smell when you remove the lid, which is a sour/tangy smell. If you're doing it right, you won't smell this when the lid is on, and it dissipates quite quickly.

The other option you could use is worm composting. I've tried to do this several times in the past, but I haven't had much luck. The worms seem to die off very quickly, and they're expensive to replace.

Mefimail me if you need more info. :)
posted by Solomon at 6:50 AM on December 18, 2008

Correct bokashi link.
posted by Solomon at 6:51 AM on December 18, 2008

You could try getting her a worm composting setup. If you do it right, you can do it inside and it doesn't smell.

Sorry for not doing a link, I can never remember how html tags work.
posted by jefeweiss at 6:56 AM on December 18, 2008

Vermiculture (composting with worms) is another type of composting that works really well. And as a bonus, it comes with little pets.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:59 AM on December 18, 2008

Sorry jefeweiss, I didn't preview hard enough...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:00 AM on December 18, 2008

Hah, you have a link though. Your htmlfu is much stronger than mine.
posted by jefeweiss at 7:25 AM on December 18, 2008

Bokashi + a compost bin is the way to go.

You will find that you get frustrated by not being able to put everything into your compost without the bokashi. You might even lapse and put in some cooked food once in a while. Then you will end up with vermin.

If you do go with the plastic bins put wire mesh on the ground and put your bin on top of it and then wrap the mesh around the bottom of you composter. That will let the worms and bugs in but keep the rats and mice out. Always mix in your compost. If you leave stuff on top it will attract pests and also mould over and you will get a good blast of mould spores when you next dump stuff in.

Turning compost in a top loading bin can be a bit of pain so you may want to get a tumbler. More expensive and even more ugly but faster at making compost and easy to aerate. So far my experience is that top loading composting is pretty slow (about a year here in the UK). An alternative to the tumblers is to get an aerator - basically a stick with a bent handle for leverage and some blades at the bottom for mucking around the compacted lower regions of your bin. If I were in Canada I would probably use a broken hockey stick with a bit of the blade heel left on for this.
posted by srboisvert at 7:31 AM on December 18, 2008

I didn't read through all the comments so sorry if I'm repeating...

NYC? Check out LES ecology center, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, and web pages. See also --there's a section on that site about urban gardening.

I'm in Brooklyn (1 bedroom, single) so I understand about space and rodents. You needn't worry about rodents or stench if you follow general guidelines about what goes in and how to treat the compost. It is very low maintenance.

I use a 10qt pot to collect kitchen scraps. I put this in the outdoor bin about every 10 days. Again I'm single and nearly all dining is at home. The pot sits next to the trash and is hardly stinky.

I have the Garden Gourmet (see: LES ecology, but it bursts at the seams. I may be doing something wrong (like turning too much, too forcefully) but I wish I acquired the Earth Machine instead. See links below.

I recycle down to single scraps of paper --everything. With composting I've reduced my general trash by at least 70%. Also, since wet, stinky, things to rot stuff doesn't go in the general trash anymore THERE IS NO LONGER a smelly-trash-about-to-go-out problem as there was before (common with small city spaces).

I personally thank you for intensifying your relationship with our planet.
posted by ezekieldas at 8:27 AM on December 18, 2008

Any suggestions on some practical stuff I can put under the tree this year?

Maybe a jarful of not so nasty looking kitchen scraps? Include a card with pic of compost equipment of choice?
posted by ezekieldas at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2008

You might have luck with a small tumbling composter for the yard and a kitchen compost bucket for the countertop. (No endorsements implied. Just wanted to to see the images. Your Google results will turn up more options.)

I use the kitchen bucket for coffee grounds and egg shells. When it gets full, it's emptied into a 55-gallon tumbling composter out back.

I haven't read "Let It Rot!" but the Storey books are generally quite reliable and informative.

So yeah, tumbling composter, kitchen bucket (with extra filters), heavy-duty garden gloves, and something to read and inspire. Happy dirt-making!
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2008

I am going to echo the NatureMill suggestion, it's easy and there is a $30 off coupon from Retail Me Not. You can use it indoors and they also have one for outdoors and they promise it contains any smell.
posted by CoralAmber at 8:43 AM on December 18, 2008

Nthing Vermiculture. I used this How To and currently have a neat plastic bin of composting/being chowed down food bits that does not smell in the least. Easy, and it looks like quite an impressive gift under the tree. Just be sure you get your worms, too!
posted by eralclare at 1:49 PM on December 18, 2008

You shouldn't have to purchase anything to compost, except maybe a bin or materials to make a bin (and bins are only necessary if you are composting food waste. Garden waste only requires a pile). Every organism you need for composting exists in your garden soil; all you need to do is: supply nitrogenous material (greens), supply carboniferous material (browns), keep it as wet as a wrung out sponge, and aerate it. That's it. Things that help are: have a pile that's about a cubic yard, chop everything into pieces no bigger than an inch, make sure your browns and greens are balanced. If you want stuff to put under the tree, I'd get a hay fork and a compost thermometer, and whatever you think you need for a bin- something that sits on the ground, has a lid, and makes it easy to turn your compost once a week. Here's info on no-nonsense composting, hot and cold. Here's how you make bokashi (which is not the same as compost, it plays a different role, is used different ways, and is not a complete plant nutrition until it is actually composted) from newspaper and yogurt.

Composting is one of the most easily assimilated, truly sustainable projects that anybody can do. Once you start buying things that can't be recycled, or products that require a purchase to keep you supplied with the necessary special wood pellets or bran, you've broken the cycle by the need to input energy from other sources to keep your composting going. That's not how it's supposed to work. A one time-purchase of worms or Lactobacteria is something that may be necessary, but you can then make more of either of these things, and share them with your neighbors. The bottom line is, you don't ever need to buy anything to compost. The entire succession of organisms that break everything down is all right their in your garden soil.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:01 PM on December 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

(oh, to have the three minute edit window right now!)
posted by oneirodynia at 2:02 PM on December 18, 2008

I have been an semi-active composter for many years (er... that is, I have semi-actively made our own compost for many years), but I found vermi-composting to be a hassle. The process is *supposed* to be simple and easy: nature makes it own compost without any assistance from us all the time. That's how forests happen.

Tumblers and their ilk help speed the process along and keep it nicely contained, but are not at all required. I've made compost in overpriced, fancy, nearly-mechanical devices, and I've made compost by making piles and leaving them to rot for a while. Really, it's not rocket science, but there are plenty of companies that will try to tell you that somehow their formed plastic (?!) is actually better than nature. Compost is rot! Compost needs no "things" (except the right conditions and some time).

Still, it's good to understand what's going on, and so I think a book is in order: the Storey book mentioned above is good, as is The Roadle Book of Composting.

In my world, a book is the greatest gift you can give. (Well, I guess love might just edge out a book, but just barely.) And since you're making a wise choice for a gift, you might double-up and give her a nice big pile of Nothing Extra: that is, gifts-for-the-sake-of-gifts don't help out anyone (except retailers).
posted by terceiro at 2:06 PM on December 18, 2008

You don't need to purchase a large plastic thing to make compost. Get some wire fencing, like rabbit fence. About 8 - 10 feet. join the end to the beginning so you have a circle. I use twisties, for ease of undoing. Place on ground. Fill with compostables. top off with leaves and garden waste if there's anything icky. Use a garden fork to stir occasionally.

Your kitchen waste generates a tiny amount of compost, but keeping it out of the garbage is a big savings. Yard waste makes good compost. I totally ignore the green:brown ratio, and my compost still enriched my garden soil tremendously. It can be really low-tech.
posted by theora55 at 2:53 PM on December 18, 2008


You can get them at Lower East Side Ecology Center's booth at the Union Square Greenmarket. You have to order them in advance -- but I think they're selling them all through the winter.

posted by puckish at 4:01 PM on December 18, 2008

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