Composting in Small Places

If you live with only a small balcony or patio, or if you have a small yard, you can still compost. Even teachers in classrooms can compost. Compost is decomposed organic matter and can be one of nature’s best soil amendments and fertilizers. It feeds the soil, building it up into a wonderful medium in which plants can grow. It puts nutrients back into the soil, which improves plant quality and vegetable yield. Compost breaks up clay soils allowing better water infiltration. You can save money by making your own compost because you can reduce your need to buy soil amendments and fertilizers.

In small places, small batch composters work well, much better than the traditional 3-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot compost pile. These fully enclosed containers keep out pests such as rodents or raccoons. With a contained system, there is very little odor. In addition, materials inside the composter stay moist, speeding up the decomposition process.

The idea behind composting is to get the pile hot through the action of bacteria so that weed seeds and diseases are killed and the organic matter quickly breaks down into humus. A hot compost mix decomposes more quickly than a cold one. To make compost, you need brown material (rich in carbon) such as dried leaves, dried grass clippings, corn cobs, coffee filters, shredded newspaper or shredded cardboard. You also need green material (rich in nitrogen), which includes fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea-bags (without the staples) egg shells, cooked rice or pasta, fresh grass or fresh leaves. The recipe for good compost starts with mostly brown ingredients (30 parts brown to one part green). Too much green matter can make compost smelly and slimy. Avoid meats, fish, bones, oils, kitty litter or pet manure. Besides the brown and green ingredients, the bacteria that create compost require moisture and air to heat the pile.

In addition, you might choose to add a compost activator, blood meal or alfalfa meal to your mixture to help it heat up to 130 degrees. However, with enough green matter, you may not need an activator, because green materials are hot on their own.

This is a small part of what students learned in a recent University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Grow Your Own class. The next class, “Kids in the Garden” will be July 29, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at 2621 Northgate, Suite 12, Carson City or 1325 Waterloo Lane, Gardnerville.

For more information, contact me at or 887-2252