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#23 Composting

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Composting and Fertilizing

Compost is essential to maintaining an urban soil fertility program, as it adds organic matter, micronutrients, and beneficial microorganisms to the soil.
Urban farmers should be able to use organic fertilizers, such as fish emulsion and manure, and take care to prevent runoff into sewage systems. In the case of odorous fertilizers, urban farmers should carry out applications at times when it will be of minimal disturbance to neighbors.

Tips for Urban Composting

Information about composting is widely available, including private or municipal composting services, but urban farmers producing their own compost must keep certain considerations in mind:

  • Urban farmers may not have the space available to produce enough compost to meet their needs, and might consider seeking donated or purchased compost from other sources;
  • Urban compost bins must be contained, aesthetically pleasing, and well-managed so as to prevent odors and minimize disturbance to neighbors; and
  • Consider compost bins that are “rodent resistant” to prevent infestation by rats, mice and other animals.  These include bins with openings no larger than ¼ inch, and bottoms should be lined with rodent screens, wire mesh or hardware cloth, again with no openings larger than ¼ inch.  However, proper and careful management of any type of compost bin can eliminate risk of attracting rodents.

Tapping the Urban Waste Stream

Restaurants, grocers, convenience stores, coffee shops, customers and neighbors are all great sources of waste for compost production and urban farmers can benefit from establishing regular pick-up or drop-off routines from these or other businesses and institutions.

New York Composting Laws

The NYC Compost Project (see below) website provides information on local, state, and federal laws pertaining to composting and the handling of organic components of the waste stream.

The New York City Compost Project

The NYC Compost Project is a citywide program developed by the city’s Department of Sanitation Bureau of Waste Prevention, Reuse, and Recycling in 1993 to provide education and outreach about composting to New York City residents, non-profit organizations, and businesses.  The Project is executed by Department-funded staff at host sites in each borough, including the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, the Lower East Side Ecology Center in Manhattan, the Queens Botanical Garden, and the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.
At each of these sites, the Project offers demonstrations, basic and advanced composting classes and a Master Composter Certificate Course.  The Project website, http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/, is a great source of information about composting, including composting guides and links to relevant resources.  Additionally, the Project provides compost bins and worm composters to New York City residents at discount prices, also featured on the website.
For more information, visit the following host websites or contact NYC Compost Project hosts directly:

Each of these sites also provides general information and resources about composting in urban environments, helpful for any city farmer looking to produce his or her own compost.

Other Resources

Earth Matter NY, Inc. is a non-profit organization that aims to promote composting in and around New York City through compost projects and learning centers at Governor’s Island, in partnership with EcoStation NY, and Fort Greene.  Earth Matter NY also offers consultations in areas including compost techniques and applications, troubleshooting, and bin building.  For more information, visit their website at http://earthmatter.org/.
The Cornell Waste Management Institute provides information and links to relevant resources on composting, including small-scale composting, at http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/.  Their website includes a list of composting facilities across New York State.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County offers composting classes and workshops, as well as a ten-session Master Composter training, in Ithaca.  Those interested can find more information and apply for the Master Composter training online at http://ccetompkins.org/gardening/composting.  This website also includes composting resources such as “how-to” factsheets and videos.

Worm Composting

Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, requires significantly less space than traditional composting and keeps food scraps, which attract rodents or animals, out of the compost bin.  As such, worm composting is well suited to smaller urban farming operations.
For information about worm composting, visit the Cornell Waste Management Institute website at http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/, which provides links to many relevant resources, and Cornell University’s worm composting page at http://compost.css.cornell.edu/worms/basics.html, which provides information on how to build and use your own worm composting bin.  Commercial worm composting bins are readily available for purchase online.

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Tara Hammonds

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