A toast to compost (Day 124)…

Here in the 416, people who live in houses get green bins. It’s a great program — you put all your food waste, paper towels and other biodegradable stuff into a small container in your kitchen; then when it gets full, you empty that out into the bigger, stinkier green bin outside; then the city picks it up each week and takes it to a composting facility.

Hoorah! Except for one problem: if you live in an apartment, you don’t get a green bin, because city councilors haven’t quite figured out what to do with an entire Trump tower‘s worth of rotting bananas.

Yet. Apparently, they’re on it, and according to my inside source a plan has been drafted along with a pilot project. But even still, the green bins won’t be rolled out to apartments for at least another year. So in the mean time, I thought I’d just go ahead and build my own.

Originally, I was just going to buy a standard composting unit, but after scouring the entire city and finding only industrial-sized plastic monstrosities, usually costing around $100, I accepted the fact that I’d have to do it myself. However, as endless hours of television have taught me, while I may be able to do it, Home Depot sure can help.

And so it was that I found myself dazed and confused, wandering the aisles of the lumber department in a skirt and kitten heels until I was finally approached by a man in an orange apron. His name was Bruce. I explained what I was looking for — and indeed, felt right out of the ads with my hand gestures and a wonky drawing of a box-like shape on my hand — until he squinted, twisted his mouth a bit and suggested I come back at a less busy time so he could really help me.

I did, and eventually he cut all the plywood (from scraps so I wasn’t chopping down more trees) and put everything I needed in a cart. The bin would have to fit on my balcony, and while I knew nothing about composting, I was pretty sure there needed to be ventilation. So we designed a structure with a mesh chicken-wire basket on the inside and a pull-out drawer on the bottom (I know, fancy stuff, eh?). He threw in some hinges and handles, some wheels to roll it outside, and I crammed it all into the trunk of my Zipcar before driving back home.

Staring at the pile of wood, varnish, tools and mesh splayed out across my living room floor made me think one thing, and one thing only:

“What have I done?”

I immediately made myself a room-temperature gin and tonic, called a friend who called himself a closet handyman, and begged him to come over. We had nothing to go from other than Bruce’s little sketch on the back of an order form and liquid confidence, but somehow, with the Do-It-Yourself gods looking down on us, we assembled what at first looked like a box, then like a more functional sort of box, and eventually like a box that might just be used for composting (see the photo montage below).

I’d saved some food waste and newspaper scrap from the past couple days, so I poured it in along with some special compost soil. Now I just have to get some worms and see what happens!


24 Responses to A toast to compost (Day 124)…

  1. pat farquharson says:

    What will you do with the compost?
    Will you still entertain on your balcony?

  2. Shawn says:

    Awesome! One question though, wtf are kitten heels? 🙂

  3. N. says:

    Good luck with this! I also live in a small apartment and was skeptical about composting on a balcony. Three vegetarians live here (so we produce lots of fruit and veggie waste) and, although I’ve done backyard composting before, we all thought balcony composting would fail. But, now, three months in we have achieved vermiculture nirvana. 100% of our kitchen waste goes into the bin, it’s processed very quickly by a hungry army of worms, there’s no smell, and no bugs. There would be no problem entertaining on my balcony because there’s no evidence that the bin has rotting food in it.

    Lots of worms are the key to balcony composting happiness. Here I can get about 200 for $10. With 600 (and new babies all the time), I’ve achieved success.

  4. gettinggreen says:

    That’s great to hear, N. I don’t really entertain on my balcony that much… for some reason I tend to always go out rather than have people over (especially because the only drinks I can offer are usually room-temperature!), but if it smells I’ll have to figure out how to fix that. I’m going to put the finished soil in the courtyard we have down below, I think.

    And Shawn, kitten heels are shoes with a slim, almost stiletto-type heel but they’re only about an inch or two high. So like baby — or kitten — versions of high heels.


  5. Alina says:

    Thats a pretty cool box you got there. I see you went all out and got a huge one 😉
    And kitten heels rock! Comfy but fancy…

  6. Jake says:

    that is teh hottest compost box i’ve ever seen! i want one!

    you should scan and post the directions!

  7. Robert says:

    Is there not an issue with rotting the box itself? Is the wood pressure treated, or is there some sort of liner?

  8. That’s pretty awesome! Our city is rather anti-compost unfortunately. But I found some plans to make a composter out of an old metal barral and some lumber. It keeps in the garage and because it was made to spin it actually composts pretty quickly.

  9. Carreen says:

    I’m not sure what to be jealous about! You have this really great compost thingy AND you live in a city with a wonderful Green Bin program like that! I so wish my small city (600,000) would do something like that! Or that someone would point me to a really easy to make compost instructions. Yours looks easy enough, but where’s the chicken wire part? It’s hard to tell how that works into the design…

  10. gettinggreen says:

    Robert, the bin has a mesh chicken wire frame inside to keep it a bit separate from the wood itself, plus I put a coat of protective varnish on the outside, and also my balcony is fairly sheltered from wind and rain so it shouldn’t get too damp.

  11. gettinggreen says:

    Careen — I know, the wire doesn’t really come through in the photograph for some reason, but it’s there, I swear! It’s just a basic chicken wire that I bent into a box shape and stapled in. I feel your pain about the compost intimidation, though… all the instructions I found online were really complicated and scary-sounding… in the end, I just used common sense and tried my best. If it all falls to pieces, I’ll let you know!

    When I have some time I’ll try to write up a simple guide to building your own box…

  12. Lauren says:

    That’s so cool! I would love to start composting, but my apartment doesn’t have any sort of balcony. As long as it doesn’t get smelly, though, I wouldn’t mind making a small one to put in the kitchen, but convincing the roommates would be a bit tricky.

  13. ~mz toddy~ says:

    hi there. i’ve done lots of research on a worm compost bin cuz i keep saying i’m going to make one, haven’t yet :-)BUT what i wanted to say is that i read that it’s important to have ventilation for the worms to get proper oxygen. the [really awesome] box you made doesn’t have them so i worry that the little crawlers can breathe! i think you can just prop the top up a couple inches and that would suffice, but it is suggested to have little holes drilled in spaced evenly on the top. there were also 2 different layers involved with the bottom layer being solely for the worm tea (worm pee) and the top level being for the worm castings (worm poop) and all the compostable materials. at the bottom of the first layer should be some insect screen so the worm pee drips into the 2nd layer, but the worms don’t fall into it. MAYBE you already know all this, but i just want your worm farm to be successful! YAY, worms!

  14. mollyjade says:

    Careen, I made this worm bin, and it was pretty easy:


  15. nichole says:

    Molly, that’s what my roommate made and I love it! So do my worms. : )

    Vanessa, I think your bin looks great! If there are any design flaws I’m sure you will find easy solutions and have happy worms.

  16. E-Jay says:

    Hi, Vanessa.

    Nice work! I’ve been adding to my compost bin since early spring, and since then have really reduced the amount of good, organic stuff I was paying the trash guy to haul away. One tip: you will have to make sure that your compost doesn’t dry out, especially if you intend to add worms to it. It should feel about as damp as a wrung out sponge, and should be turned about once a month. And if the bin gets some direct sunlight to warm it up during the day, that’s good. Here’s a great link to the New York City Compost Project. http://www.nyccompost.org/

    How’s the balcony garden doing?

  17. PlasticLess says:

    This is fantastic — bravo. I’m really looking forward to updates on how this is working, because we have no yard and no compost pickup where we live.

  18. pat farquharson says:

    What happens in winter to the worms?

  19. Heather K says:

    i made my worm box out of a rubbermaid tub (ew, plastic, I know) and had a very very rough start with it. All of my worms escaped becasue it was way too wet. And I don’t have a balcony so by escaped I mean they were all over my kitchen floor. My biggest advice to you, which no one told me, make sure it drains well. Good Luck! 🙂

  20. greenchick says:

    My compost bin is made out of a large rubbermade tub as well. I drilled lots of holes in the bottom, top and sides. Then I put wood slats under neath to promote ventilation. I keep in im our garage since we live in a townhouse and it works fantastic! you can just feel the hit coming of it when you open the lid. Microbes in action!

    I keep a coffee can under the sink for kitchen scraps. When it gets full I just take it out into the garage.

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