Posted on 23 April 2008 by

Gardening on a Budget Part 2: Trashing Your Urban Garden

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gardening budgetBy Michael Nolan

Show of hands – how many urban gardeners out there either bag up the leaves and grass clippings and put them on the curb or pay someone to take them off your hands?

Now of those, how many spend money on fertilizers and plant foods to give your garden plants an extra boost? That’s what I thought.

Today’s lesson on budget gardening is to get trashy.

No, not COPS trashy. In this case we’re talking about using what you already have on hand – probably what you’re tossing in the garbage pail – to turbo charge your urban garden. Now I understand that a lot of urban gardeners don’t have the space to compost (some of you don’t even have a yard at all), and I’ve got a few pointers for you in a minute. For the rest, stop throwing it all away already!

For starters, keep a large plastic zipper bag, old coffee can or margarine tub handy in your kitchen. You might want to label it so that no one reaches for your indoor compost container thinking it is something yummy. Into your container start keeping all of your plant-based scraps, within reason.

DO Use:
– rinds
– peelings
– ends
– spoiled/browning leaves and stems
– egg shells (I rinse them)
– coffee grounds

– any part of meat or bones
– cooked vegetables
– canned veggies or fruits

Now with that out of the way, I am going to tell you how I composted my way when I was stuck in a 12th floor apartment in New York. Once a week I would grab my compost container from the kitchen and break it up into tiny bits using an old blender. Then I’d dump the lot into a lidded 5-gallon bucket on my terrace. I’d use the same blender to obliterate an equal amount of browned leaves from my house plants and add that to the bucket as well.

MICHAEL’S UGC TIP: An old blender or food processor can be a great tool for urban composting. If you don’t have one, stop by a thrift store or check your local Freecycle list.

When I’d repot a plant, I would add a healthy handful of the left over dirt to my bucket, too. Cover and shake, shake, shake. Remove the cover and let your mixture breathe for an hour or so every couple of days. When you first notice an odor, add just enough water to moisten your mix. I actually used leftover coffee most of the time, so my terrace smelled like a coffee shop.

By using the blender, I was breaking down the compostables into much tinier parts, and that made the process go by much quicker. Your mileage may vary, but this is the way I did it and it definitely works.

8 Responses to “Gardening on a Budget Part 2: Trashing Your Urban Garden”

  1. our friend Ben Says:

    Great post, Michael! I simply shudder to think of all that good compost going down people’s garbage disposals. Ouch!!!

  2. Michael Nolan Says:

    I used to call it a ‘metric f*** ton’ of stupidity.

  3. Juggling Frogs Says:

    What about rats? We live in Boston, where there is a significant rat problem. My husband made a compost pile for our yard waste, which keeps us from having it processed by the city. We are very wary, however, of putting anything food-like in the compost pile, for fear of attracting rats, squirrels, mice, etc.

    Has this ever been a problem for you?

  4. Michael Nolan Says:

    You know I have never had a problem with them in the past and you’re the first to bring it up to me (which surprises me). I’m going to do some research and get back to you.

  5. Juggling Frogs Says:

    Thank you! I’ll look forward to finding out what you learn. This morning, when I was trying to decide where to put an earthbox for tomatoes, a neighbor came by and said she saw rats eating another neighbor’s vegetables directly from their garden.

    I ended up putting the earthbox on second floor deck that has no stairs leading to it. I hope this will allow us to have tomatoes without inviting or encouraging pests.

  6. Michael Nolan Says:

    My partner’s father has a garden that made me want to cry it was so amazing, and it was almost entirely surrounded by large earth boxes full of peppers of every variety.

    I’ll get back to you as soon as I have some info to share.

  7. Uncle B Says:

    I compost all kitchen scraps, stale bread, crackers, cookies,coffee grounds, toilet paper inner rolls,used Kleenex, cardboard(shredded), newspapers(shredded), bills, junk mail,scrap paper, sawdust, house dust, dog hair, and cotton rags. I grow the nicest tomatoes and potatoes you have ever seen in composted earth. I had to buy a pressure canner to preserve my backyard garden surplus and now have two small freezers for the same reason. Next year I plan on strawberries also,since they are easy to keep. ‘Gardening can be profitable and fun as long as you seek out the easiest, fastest way to produce no more than you need for one year. I have canned tomatoes from two years ago still on the shelf – oops! Have Fun!

  8. Shibaguyz Says:

    If you live in an area prone to rats, make sure to bury the freshest of your compostables deep inside your pile. The smell is what they are attracted to and burying it usually helps.

    Also, you can use a green cone composter that you get from your local utility service agency. HOWEVER… a tall container of any sort can be modified on the cheap and be a much more frugal option. Maybe Michael will post about that for us?? 🙂

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