Good compost makes good neighbors

When I was looking into the opportunities for free compost in the area, I found Iowa City’s helpful, handy dandy brochure on composting. It was clear, straightforward and instructional, but also included a directive: build the pile no less than 20 feet from any house structure and no less than five feet from a property line.

Based on our yard, that meant setting up compost right in the middle of the back lawn. Ideal? Not so much.

But on Saturday morning, our landlord came by to show the upstairs apartment, and I corralled him to ask him about what he felt would be an appropriate location.

He pointed toward the back corner of the yard. The spot? Definitely within about 10 inches of two different property lines, and probably within about 18 feet of the house at the other end of our yard.

I took it upon myself to explain to him the vagaries of Iowa City law.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said, naming the tenant renting the house I pointed at. “They’re very into environmental stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wanted to throw their stuff in there, too.”

I eyed the spot, wondering if, in fact, good compost makes good neighbors.


13 Responses to “Good compost makes good neighbors”

  1. 1 Frank May 3, 2007 at 9:59 am


    I’ve been composting for a while, right by the back fence, a simple wood frame with four feet of chickenwire on three sides and three feet on the fourth side, that last only to keep out my kids and my dog. It’s really no big deal, even in the height of summer, especially if you maintain a healthy mix so you don’t have, say, 10 pounds of rotting cabbage sitting on the top. I like to think my neighbors don’t even notice, at least, none have ever mentioned it.


  2. 2 inadvertentgardener May 3, 2007 at 10:10 am

    Frank, excellent to know. And if I get into a situation where I have 10 pounds of rotting cabbage, it’s likely there’s something much, much worse than smelly compost going on with my life… But I’ll keep you posted on how it goes! (And, by the way, good to see you stopping by!)

  3. 3 steven May 3, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Funny, I did have about ten pounds of rotting cabbage in my compost pile, my sauerkraut went bad last batch I made and well, the stink was spectacular.

  4. 4 Don May 3, 2007 at 9:37 pm

    Used to compost, then my ecological halo fell off when I found you can buy beautiful compost from the Iowa City landfill for something like $10 a ton. Occasionally they’ll even dump a pile of free compost down by the airport, next to the “mulch mountain”.

  5. 5 Lydia May 4, 2007 at 6:25 am

    When I lived in Boston, I never composted because my back yard was so small, and the neighbor’s property line so close to my house. I never thought to ask her whether she’d mind, or whether she’d like to add to the compost pile. What a lovely idea.

  6. 6 Patrick May 4, 2007 at 9:27 am

    I rarely ever hear of anyone complaining about the smell of compost, even if you do put something like rotten cabbage into it, the smell usually goes away quickly.

    One of the biggest problems can be insects. You don’t want to put it in a place where your neighbor is going to spend a lot of time like near a porch or a frequently used walkway. You could consider using a covered compost container rather than an open pile, to reduce this problem. Just be sure to use a container designed for composting, with an open bottom and proper ventalation.

  7. 7 Xris (Flatbush Gardener) May 4, 2007 at 10:55 am

    I’m not aware of any specific regulations regarding composting in New York City, which has regulations for everything. There could well be come I don;t know about. That said, I’ve been composting for 25 years in four different gardens in the city, and there’s never been a complaint.

    The only problem I ever had was in the first garden, in the East Village. We had the plastic compost bin on a concrete pad by the basement entrance, next to the house. It occasionally attracted mice, but these came from the basement and building, rather than the other way around.

    I think existing health and nuisance regulations should govern home composting. Don’t create a situation which attracts rodents and vermin, and don’t create bad smells. Good composting practices already address these concerns.

  8. 8 inadvertentgardener May 6, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Steven, yikes…cabbage stink…I’m pretty sure you live out in the middle of fairly nowhere, right? There’s no way I could pull off the cabbage trick here…

    Don, I’m so glad you brought that stuff to my attention — I’m hoping it did my garden good this year, and I’m looking forward to see how it works. I couldn’t beat the price tag — you’re right!

    Lydia, I haven’t actually asked the neighbors if they want to play along yet, but I probably should. It is a lovely idea to just have a communal spot.

    Patrick, good advice — I hadn’t even thought about the insect issue…

    Xris, glad to hear how your experiences have gone. I would expect it would be hard to compost in NYC — that’s definitely got to be a challenge. Lots of vermin there already.

  9. 9 linus August 4, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Even with stinking cabbage, your compost doesn’t have to stink. Cover stinking additions with dry leaves and/or soil. With the right moisture level compost should never stink.

  10. 10 inadvertentgardener August 5, 2007 at 8:32 am

    Linus, that’s an excellent tip — thank you!

  11. 11 Joyce May 28, 2008 at 10:08 am

    I don’t compost but I do occasionally throw old produce in a corner of a flower bed. Here’s a question: After my magnolia blooms (yes, here in Michigan if we don’t get a late frost) I have to rake up bags of fallen blooms. Could I use this stuff directly as mulch, or at least work it into the dirt while planting?

  12. 12 inadvertentgardener June 3, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Joyce, I think official gardeners would say you’d have to break it down before actually adding it to the garden. But I’ll admit that I have been known to just bury stuff in my plot rather than take it out and compost it. So I’d say working it into the dirt probably would work. I bet there are those who would disagree with me, though!

  1. 1 In exchange for room and board « The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on May 25, 2007 at 6:19 pm

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