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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?

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I have a worm bin on the back porch of my sad, yard-less city apartment. The capacity for food scraps is pretty limited, as the little guys can only take so much food at a time. I've been throwing the food scraps from cooking into the freezer first, which helps break down the food before it goes into the bin. Seems like good advice.
As far as cost: cheap. Two of the plastic storage bins that you find at hardware stores + power drill and elbow grease + paper from the shredder at work. There's good info here
Not sure what to do now that winter is coming...will the food decay and worm action keep it all warm enough, or should I move them inside?
Have you looking into a book called, "Worms Eat My Garbage?" I am in the process of reading it and will be setting up my own worm bin in the basement. My husband already has a compost bin started in our backyard, but with winter coming that will be hard to continue.
A healthy compost pile is definitely the key to lack of smell - it should smell pleasantly earthy. My current system is two black 5-gallon pails with screw-on lids and lots of holes drilled in them. I've since built a stand for them, but before that I was just shaking them or stirring them up every few days. You add fresh matter to one until its about 3/4 full, then let that one "cook" while adding to the other. If you stir frequently, the first one should be mostly done when you have the second one filled.

I empty the raw compost into large flower pots and cover them with a thin layer of dirt, but you could also just bury it in a corner of your flower bed - this gives it time for stuff like eggshells and corn cobs to break down completely. Again, if the compost has the right moisture levels and is kept stirred up frequently, it shouldn't smell at all when you empty it.

This system barely covers a family of 2.5. You could probably just add another bucket, though.

Note: 5 gallons is a little small for a "hot" composter - most sites recommend 10 gallon containers, though this makes it much harder to move it around...
I have a small worm bin that is inside all the time. If you keep the conditions right, the bin does not smell at all. Conditions that will make it smell is the bin being too wet or putting too much food in the bin at one time. I am really happy with the results that I am getting.
I would recomend the book The Urban Homestead, which has some great stuff to get you started on composting. Probably a "Worm Box" would be best, as it is the quickest way to break down organic matter. You really don't need to spend a lot, and can probably fashion a compost bin out of a trash can with a lid. Make sure you have a way to secure it. I know rats are a problem in my area, so I'm devising a trash can composter where I can strap it shut with a bungee chord. Just a lid isn't enough to keep out Raccoons.
On my small urban plot, I use a combo of a worm composting bin, three chickens and a perforated trashcan compost bin. Between the three I manage to compost nearly all of our kitchen and garden scraps, as well as paper mail, newsprint, paper bags, etc. I'm in the process of observing the three and seeing what materials work best and compost the fastest. The chickens get the tastiest, the worms the scrappiest, and the bin the chunkiest. A very far from scientific approach!

Would love to hear how others handle compost on small urban lots!
It's in the 50's this week, but I've already brought the worm bin inside. I just added a bunch of paper from the shredder at the office and mixed it all about because the soil is so moist and it was beginning to smell. Any other suggestions? I'd prefer to keep the bin on the porch all winter, but will the little critters freeze?
OK, I've called the experts at Lower East Side Ecology Center in New York City (they're our HOMEGROWN local organization that is tabling at the Amanda Palmer show there this weekend) and Carey, the Compost Project Manager there, told me that, yes, I do need to keep the bin inside or the worms will freeze and nothing good will come of that. Thanks, Carey!
If you have a yard or garden, a pile will do, after you flip it cover with shredded leaves, a good sized pile will not freeze at the bottom and in the middle, worms will burrow deep and survive the winter. Small pallets or skids can be used to build a container at no cost (the loading docks of super markets or Home depots etc. always have stacks of them, the drivers dont mind if you take them) Native worms will gravitate to your pile and set up shop, or go to a bait store and buy trout worms , they are related to the red wigglers and are great for composting, they do well thru the northeast winters as long as they can go deep. We usually leave one pile dormant from roughly Nov. thru March and one smaller pile for the compost bucket in the kitchen. 5 gallon compound buckets can be found at any construction site that has started the sheetrock, the guys wont mind if you take them, clean them out with the lid and they make compost bucket. The dormant pile (meaning we dont flip it thru the winter) we sift thru early spring , transfer worms to the active pile and anything that didnt completely compost, and dig it right into the garden. A family of three can get maybe two hundred pounds or so of excellent garden ready compost each year, with only table scraps and shredded leaves. Good luck
Hello Carrie,
My suggestion to composting is: Always put layers brown (leaves,chipped branches) and then green(gras clippings, veggie rets).You might be able to add a bit of manure(brown) once a while.But what I'm using is a compost starter. This I add starting a compost evrey week, once the compost is running twice a month.
I figured out the compost starter keeps also the flies way from the compost pile as well as odours.
I belong to a group where a family made a huge flow through vermicompost bin out of a 96 gallon garbage can with wheels! It had holes on the sides at the top and a flap cut into the bottom to get the finished compost. It seemed like a system that could be used year long just because of the size of the can!
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.

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