Composting with our New Zealand style compost bin could not be any easier or more efficient! This system of composting was recommended by the Chicago Park District as the preferred method to break down our organic matter over the year without a smell and without attracting any rodents or wildlife.
How composting works: Compost works best when the heap is made up of an even mix of brown dry material (e.g., leaves, shredded paper, dried grass) and green materials (e.g., weeds, leafy greens, old vegetable plants) and kept consistency moist and aerated. Bacteria, fungus, and other microbes work together to break down everything. In about a month or two, the pile will start to look more like soil as the plant matter decomposes. At this stage, the pile will move to the second compartment in our composting bin, and we can start adding new plant matter in the first compartment. After a few more weeks of keeping the piles moist and turned regularly, the plant material will have decomposed into small brown soil-like particles. We will then move the pile to the third bin and the compost will be ready to use for our plots!
What’s allowed? Pulled weeds, spent vegetable plants, old flowers, dead houseplants, fallen leaves, cut grass and shredded paper or shredded cardboard.
What’s not allowed? Anything not specifically listed above! For example: old vegetables from your plot, cooking scraps, food waste of any kind, eggshells, manure, dog waste, and plastic of any kind - even the compostable plastics. All these items, while compostable, will attract wildlife. If you are unsure if an item is appropriate, please err on the side of caution and use the garbage cans provided by the city.
What if the bins are full? Sometimes at the end of our growing season the compost bins can become full with garden waste. Do not add anything more to the pile when this happens. Please don’t leave any garden waste outside of the bins (this attracts wildlife) or press down the full bin (this stops the flow of oxygen to the center of the pile, slowing down or even stopping the decomposition process)
Who will care for the compost? A committee of 4 or more garden members will be created at the beginning of each season and they will be responsible for turning the piles, checking the moisture content of each pile, and discarding anything that isn’t allowed.
This committee will meet on the first work day of the year, learn how to turn the pile as a group and then discuss who will take care of it, when. (Usually a weekly rotation through all the committee members repeating until the final week of the growing season) An email will be sent to the committee members with the weeks they are in charge of.
When will compost be ready? We should have fresh compost by the time our season wraps up at the end of the Fall, setting up a great start to the next gardening season!
Who gets to use the compost? Our garden members that have participated in our work days, compost committee or care-for-real committee will have a chance to win a 5 gallon bucket of that years finished compost.
What about the smell? Compost done properly should not smell any different from the forest floor. If the pile starts to stink, that is it’s way of telling us it has become anaerobic and needs to be turned. Turning the pile over introduces fresh air so that the microbes in the center of the pile can do their job properly.
What about rats? Along with help from the Chicago Park District, EBGA chose to implement the New Zealand style of composting bin, designed to utilize composting without attracting unwanted wildlife. All sides of our composting bin, including the bottom, are reinforced with chicken wire. EBGA’s allowed list is more restrictive than you may find in other communal garden compost sites to help ease any concerns around rodents.