Corrode to joy | How to compost in Chicago

Composting is great for your plants and the environment—just watch out for the rats.

Photograph: Rogan Birnie

If you have a yard…
...then you have no excuse, you lucky bastard. Put fruit and veggie scraps (but no meat, dairy, grease or grains…that’s a one-way ticket to ratville) in a plastic compost bin. Put the bin anywhere in your yard, but make sure it’s on dirt, which will allow the worms and bugs that’ll eat your garbage to crawl right up in there. Any bin you buy will have airholes; to meet Chicago’s requirements, those holes should be a quarter inch or smaller. Pick one up at Grand Street Gardens (2200 W Grand Ave, 312-829-8200) for $40–$60, or another local retailer, and the City of Chicago will give you a rebate of up to $50 off the purchase price of your bin. To get the rebate form, visit cityofchicago.org and search for the Chicago Sustainable Backyards Program; a downloadable pdf form will get you cash back. When your compost is ready (in a couple months), scoop the nutrient-rich stuff around your favorite plants and they’ll love you forever.

If you have a porch…
...what you need is a compost tumbler—it’s like a compost bin had a baby with a cement mixer. Turning the barrel mixes air into your compost, encouraging trash to break down faster. We found a "Tumbleweed" 58-gallon rotating compost bin on Amazon.com for $150, tailor-made for on-the-spot rot.

If you have no outdoor space…
...you’ll need to sweet-talk your roommates or significant other into letting you store a 2-by-2-foot box of worms in the house (good luck!). Get yourself a worm bin at wormwoman.com ($75); it comes with an instruction book and a pound of red wiggler worms. The box won’t smell (seriously), but it’s not pretty, so you’ll want to put it in a closet or under the kitchen sink. Your new spineless pets will chow a shocking amount of vegetable matter (four pounds a week); just dump those banana peels in and watch them disappear overnight.

For more info on composting, visit chicagohomecomposting.org.

This story's content/resources updated 3/13/2012.

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