Green Garden Tips: The Guide to Easy, Cheap, Rat-Free Compost (Even for Apartments!)

If you want the best garden, you need the best soil.  This doesn’t have to mean lugging giant soil bags from your local hardware store or using gallons of potentially toxic, petroleum based fertilizer.  It also doesn’t mean inviting rats, mice and other anklebiters to feast in your yard.  You can make your own nutrient rich fertilizer by composting your food scraps.  I know this may sound exotic but it is so easy, even if your brain was no more powerful than, say, Jeff Spiccoli, you could figure it out.  I’m the first to say I don’t have time to learn, but there’s almost no learning involved here.

This post is about composting for people who have room outside for a composter that is about 3 feet tall by 2-3 feet in diameter.  If you only have a large deck or cement area, you can use a compost tumbler that doesn’t need to be on the soil.  If you don’t have room, you may be able to share with a neighbor or start a community compost area.  We live in a condo and our compost bin is in the yard at the Swaner Eco-Center.  Barring that you can do something called vermicomposting which works even in the smallest apartment, no large bin required.  More information and supplies on all kinds of composting are available at the Composting 101.

What you need to compost (traditional, not vermiculture):

  1. Large black Compost Bin (around $60-$80) or Compost Tumbler
  2. Small under the sink compost bucket with carbon filter (around $15 – $20)
  3. Leaves or shredded newspapers
  4. A big stick (to beat your family members who put animal products in the compost bucket!)

Step by Step Instructions – Basically, fill then stir, fill then stir.  Done.

  • Find a spot, preferably in a sunny area and put your big compost bin there.  If it’s a standard compost bin it needs to be on soil, not cement.  If it’s a tumbler, it can go anywhere, even on a deck.
  • Fill the big bin about 2/3 full with leaves or shredded newspaper.
  • Put all food scraps, including coffee grounds, tea bags, egg shells (except anything derived from animal products) in your little indoor compost bin.
  • When it’s full, empty it into the big outdoor bin.
  • Add a bucket of water to the big bin and stir with the big stick.
  • You can also put any kind of yard waste into the bin, but keep the don’ts below in mind.

Even if you are super lazy and rarely stir or water, this should turn into nice soil in 6-12 months.  You want to extract the soil from the base of the compost bin, not the top.


  • Don’t cheap out and try to create a compost heap without the container.  This will be smelly, ugly and attract all of the neighborhood pests, not to mention the Department of Health.
  • Don’t put any of the following into the compost bin:
  1. Animal products
  2. Colored paper (including colored newsprint)
  3. Diseased plants
  4. Pet feces (some people do compost this, but it’s for advanced composters)
  5. Chemicals (including pressure treated lumber)




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3 Responses to Green Garden Tips: The Guide to Easy, Cheap, Rat-Free Compost (Even for Apartments!)

  1. Pingback: Earth Day! Top Ten Tips from This Green Earth | This Green Earth

  2. Pingback: Confessions of an Anti-Environmental Brat | This Green Earth

  3. Pingback: What’s Your Green Ability Level? From Bunny Hill to Double Black Diamond | This Green Earth

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