10 Tips for Composting in the City

Understand How It Works

There's no need to take Composting 101 or read a lengthy how-to manual to be successful at composting. It's something just about anyone can do. But while it's easy, there are a few things you might want to understand before you start.

The four basic requirements for composting are air, water, carbon and nitrogen. The right amount of air and water will ensure the rapid reproduction of decomposers, the organisms that break down the carbon and nitrogen materials in your compost pile. Decomposers include bacteria, bugs, worms and fungi, of which bacteria are the most plentiful.

Aerobic bacteria thrive in an oxygen-rich environment and are the most effective at decomposition. When there isn't enough air in the pile, anaerobic bacteria move in and decomposition becomes slow and inefficient. Anaerobic bacteria also leave behind hydrogen sulfide, which gives off an unpleasant rotten egg smell. So, you'll want to make sure your pile gets enough air.

You should also strive to keep your pile moist, but not soggy. When moisture decreases, the deposition of your pile slows. Too much moisture and it becomes air deficient, encouraging the growth of anaerobic bacteria.

Carbon comes from dry, lifeless materials from your kitchen and garden, and nitrogen from the moist, fresh waste. Compost forms best with a 30:1 carbon-to-nitrogen ratio [source: National Sierra Club]. You should try to balance these elements in your compost pile, but maintaining the exact ratio isn't that critical.

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