Dog with a compost covered nose.A well-taken care of worm bin can evade even the most sensitive, persistent noses.Photo courtesy Elle-Epp via FlickrAs Tom Philpott wrote in the introductory essay to Grist’s Feeding the City series, urban agriculture took a huge hit once combustible-fuel machines replaced horses — and horse manure — as the vehicle of choice in cities. Farms need fertilizer, and it’s more efficient to grow where the sources of it live and poop. 

However, every day city dwellers throw away huge amounts of organic matter that could be turned into that precious material — through composting. Yard trimmings and food scraps make up 26 percent of U.S. waste, and once this organic matter hits the landfill, it breaks down slowly due to lack of air: your farmers-market tomato can produce methane, a deadly greenhouse gas, in a not-so-green afterlife.

If you’re going to all the trouble to eat locally grown, organic vegetables, it’s rather a shame to truck their remains away to landfill prison when you could be feeding them back to the earth.

So why aren’t you composting yet? Farmers have been doing it for centuries, and it’s finally catching on in cities around America, not just in environmentally correct Portland and San Francisco. So come on you trendy green urbanites with too many greens on your hands, let’s get started. 

First, you need to know the basics. Composting is the process of accelerating the natural decay of organic matter. Decay, of course, will happen without you, but by controlling the process, you can reap the benefits: nutrient-rich soil fertilizer. In all the following methods, it’s important to get about a 50/50 mix of “green” and “brown” materials. The brown — woody matter like leaves, bark, paper, and sawdust — is high in carbon. Green matter — food scraps and coffee grounds — is high in nitrogren. A good balance of carbon and nitrogen makes the microbes’ and worms’ jobs easier, meaning a faster decaying process, less smells, and healthy, rich, dark-brown compost that’s damp, but not too wet — think wrung-out sponge.

Now that you have some basics, let’s look at the most common composting methods. Whether you live in a tiny apartment or a sprawling condo, there’s an easy way to break down your breaking-down organic matter!