Mark from CISA wrote:
> Get four pallets from a local factory. Make and upright box.
> Toss in your stuff. If you have enough material and the right
> ration (of veg scraps to leaves to grass clippings) you should have
> no smell problem.
> In my experience this setup is way cheaper (free) and way easier
> to deal with than the various plastic doo-dads sold for lots of $$
> in the gardening catalogs.
A few observations based on my experience in urban and rural ag.
A lidless composter in a big city can draw rats, mice, raccoons,
possums, cats, starlings, sparrows, pigeons, maggots, and other
colonizers. This isn't a situation you or your neighbors would
appreciate if you live in Kate's part of the world--say, a row home
in South Philly, Manayunk, Frankford, or Darby. You haven't lived
till rats or possums start fighting over eggshells and vegie waste
in your tiny backyard at 3 a.m. in the city. Nor till your neighbors
take it up with you as an issue. :^]
As for a scrap-pallet composter, city rats can chew thru wooden
pallets faster than you can say "Big Brother, Room 101." These are
animals for whom there are effectively no predators, and who breed in
direct proportion to how much they consume. When they reach
overpopulation and get hungry, they go on attack. When they are in
some sort of population balance, they still carry disease. Open
composters with kitchen wastes are basically rat feeding stations, in
In the swampy heat of a Philadelphia July/August, porous wood (like
pallet soft pine or poplar) can absorb waste liquids...and in a few
days put off a smell like nothing I've ever experienced here in
Madison. Neighbors then associate composting with the smell of
In addition, some industrial pallets are treated with chemicals--or
have had chemicals leaked onto them (depending on their
source)--that I wouldn't want leaching into my garden.
While plastic may seem unsustainable...it is also an enduring
material. A good friend of mine in Wilmington, DE, bought a "green
magic" plastic barrel composter about 15 years ago that she's still
using. She paid maybe $100 for it then. Not only has it been an
effective tool since, at a cost of, what, $6.75 per year--she's made
other productive use of the time it'd take for her to rebuild
scrap-material composters in the interim. It was made of a
UV-resistant material which has faded some over the years...but is
still hanging in as a tool.
Not many wooden tools hold up that long in the city or urban shadow.
(Or even in rural areas--I'm thinking of the last time I fabricated
a wooden drawbar for a drag....) Unless the wood is treated with
chemicals. Finally, not only do tools in urban settings have to
withstand the elements--heat, cold, UV--they also are exposed to
higher proportions of industrial chemicals, acid rain, etc.
I'm all for the scavenging school of food production. Making do,
recycling materials, etc. However, careful technology assessment can
lead to the conclusion that a $70 investment in a polymer composter
is a good choice in some situations.
One reason food production has moved out of the cities is that people
transplanted rural technologies to cities without adapting them for
their new Places. From a policy perspective, it was viewed as easier
to ban the technologies, and food production systems in general, as
problems than adapt them. So that today, you can keep a yard full of
honking, sniveling, inbred Rottweilers...but not a few chickens.
Finding the right combination of production systems, supporting
technologies, and urban food production policies will take some
Some of the tools sold for urban or suburban gardening can surely be
put in the category of "doo-dads" (implying nonessential). But I
think we need to do careful technology assessments before concluding
that. The constraints on the urban farmer are very unlike those on
other farmers. Sometimes the thought that goes into the production
of a certain tool--like these composters--is careful, and designed to
ease those constraints. So that part of the cost of these tools is
technology in the purest sense: the word comes from Latin
/tekhne-/, meaning skill.
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
Dennis: Anarcho-syndicalism is a way of *preserving* freedom!
His Wife: Oh, Dennis, *forget* about freedom! We 'aven't got enough mud!
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