Composting in Urban Albuquerque
January 21, 2022
I have some composting questions for you. My husband and I recently started composting our household food waste (vegetable/fruit peels and scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc.) and backyard leaves/grass/twig clippings. Once we started gathering this material, I was shocked by now much compostable waste our family of 4 produces. We probably fill 2-3 paper shopping bags a week with food waste alone. We are having some problems managing the food waste part of the compost:
We had been putting the compost in a pile in the backyard, but it started to draw all manner of critters and insects. Our house is near the State Fair Grounds animal areas, so flies of all sorts would gather and bother the dogs and kids.
After this experience, my husband started shallow burial of the material. This was also dug up by critters, including a skunk (who knew there was so much wildlife in the middle of ABQ).
My husband then began to deep bury the material in various areas of our yard. While this has solved the critter problem, we really can’t use anything we compost. It also seems like we are unnecessarily inverting and disturbing the soil layers.
My husband does not bury compost nearly frequently enough (maybe 2-3 times a month), so we end up with a bunch of food waste bags hanging out in plastic bins on the side of the house. This has been a problem with critters, flies, and odors.
Because of these issues, I am actually wanting to throw in the towel on all this composting business. We are drawing too many critters and insects to our yard. My husband wants to keep at it though and is dismayed about filling the landfill with compostable materials. How can we avoid bags of stinky compost piling up outside our house and causing all these problems? How can we avoid huge piles of brush, cut grass, and branches hanging out on various areas of our yard, creating a fire hazard and habitat for cockroaches?
We are novices with composting, so any classes/methods you can recommend would be very helpful. Online is preferred for us vs. large in-person classes. I am particularly interested in how people keep up with the volume of food waste that piles up; do they just throw a portion of it in the trash can
Thanks for any help you can give.
Answer from JZ: Great to hear about your composting efforts. Other master composter colleagues may also send you their comments. Here are my thoughts.
Insects are a natural part of the decomposition process. They are decomposers along with the microorganisms.
You did not mention if you have a composting manufactured or homemade bin.(?) Avoid adding: meat, fish, dairy products, lard, oils as these have odors which may attract critters. Keep the top of any composting setup covered with a drape, eg. plastic or cardboard this will help keep moisture in the bin and reduce flying insects. See Desert Composting under Composting Info in our website main menu. A type of bin which may reduce some of critters issues is an elevated tumbler bin, they are usually quite snug, so they preserve moisture well and make it difficult for critters to bother the operation. See Tumber Bins under Composting Info. See various types of tumblers at amazon.com - of course they also picture other types of composting bins. Another snug bin may be made from a trash can - any size. Put a brick on the top of the bin lid to keep out predators. Holes in the bottom are dime-size or less. See Homemade Bins under Composting Info. Then you would have, eventually finished compost at the bottom of bin, which you could use in garden.
Another option which would be insect / critter free is the Bokashi closed bucket method which could be done indoors in any size container: docs.nmcomposters.org/bokashi-overview.pdf When fermentation in the bucket is complete, then the contents may be buried (18-24” deep) in garden soil or added to a compost bin. Then aerobic decomposition will complete the process in the soil or a bin. A large bucket, eg. 5 gallons or bigger could manage your families left overs.
Twice a year CABQ.gov/ solid waste does a collection of yard clippings and leftovers:Green Waste — City of Albuquerque You could bag some of your dry yard clippings, so that you are ready when pick up occurs.
Let us know if this has been helpful. Best.
From original questioner: Thank you for your tips and recommendations. We do not have any sort of bin or container right now; my husband is just digging a hole in the ground (without a cover). We will look through some of your recommendations and see which works best for us. I’ll reach out if we have more questions.
The tips about the insects were helpful. May I also ask your opinion about cockroaches? There are many of them in our area of ABQ, especially in the summer. My husband does not agree with using routine pesticides to keep them at bay. On a summer night though, those critters are running around freely in the backyard, and many of them enter the house. Do you spray in your yard, or have other more natural ways to control them?
Answer from JZ: I cannot offer any specifics about managing cockroaches. I do not use anticockroach sprays. You might Google the issue to see if there are environmentally safe trapping methods available. My colleagues may have ideas too. Standby. If you choose the Bokashi method there would be no roaches in that setup and your husband could keep burying the fermented bucket contents in your soil.
Answer from WR: A few years ago I bought a little mini greenhouse from Craig's List. It had some dirt in it. I put it on my back patio to clean it up. When I poured out the dirt, millions of cockroaches streamed out. Well, I might be exaggerating but it had to be hundreds. It freaked me out because it was right next to my house and near my back door. But, to my surprise, I never had an increase in cockroaches because of it. I occasionally see cockroaches in my cold compost pile but they no longer freak me out. I know they are doing their part in nature to break down all that organic matter to make finished compost. I don't think those cockroaches ever make it into my house, they have it too good in the compost pile. I used to come across a cockroach in my house maybe every week or so, some seasons worse than others. The past couple of years I've hardly seen any. One thing I started doing was putting out baits made by mixing butter, sugar, and borax (you can find various recipes on the web). And I discovered Harris Famous Roach Tablets. They kill using borax as well. Borax seems to be a safe, non-toxic way of controlling roaches. https://smile.amazon.com/Harris-Roach-Tablets-Boric-Killer/dp/B001B1LI8A/ref=sr_1_4 Hope this will be a little bit useful.
From original questioner: Thanks for the tips on the cockroaches. Your mini greenhouse story sounds nerve wracking! Glad they didn’t increase numbers at your property.
I will give the Borax tabs a try. I’m sure I could put them somewhere away from my pets and children.