Neighbors Compost Question
Old 02-20-2012, 10:39 AM   #1
Elora Lunasea
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Default Neighbors Compost Question

I figured this was the right place to ask this question since several of you do some serious gardening.

My next door neighbor has a really nice set-up in the backyard for their veggies - raised beds, takes good care of them and we reap the benefits of the overages. They've been quite generous, bringing us tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. all last summer.

However, late in the season we happened to have to go into their backyard to take a look at how close their beds were to our detached garage because we'll be painting it and the house and needed to see the condition of it.

The first problem is that the beds are actually on part of our property as it turns out. I looked at our property map to make sure. There is a very narrow strip of land which is ours - just enough to allow a person to get behind the garage for access around the building; plus their fence seems to have been built possibly on our property as well but I believe it was put up before they moved into the house.

I could be an ass about it and make them move the beds - but I'm not going to of course. I did tell them that my painters probably will have to go back there and they were cool about it. I also told them they needed to remove the ivy which is attached to the wall there, which my town has bitched about to us and I've been mandated to remove. We've gotten nearly all of it down on the other sides but it keeps creeping back because of what's on the back. They also agreed to try, or at least keep it more manageable (it looks nice back there with the beds, I do have to say).

Ok, I digress.

The real problem is that they have a huge compost bin back there, just as you walk into the yard. When we saw it, it was crawling with flies. It was in bad condition, cracked and overflowing with compost.

Now, we understood why OUR house, seemed to be over-run with flies over the summer! I mean, we could not understand why we always seemed to have more than several of them in the house. We've replaced the basement windows since last summer which had ways for them to get into the house, so I'm hoping this will help, however, since the compost bin is so close to the entry of our home (the properties at that side of the house are very close to each other, and the bin not more than 10' or so from our house entry I'm guessing); flies are pretty much buzzing all around the front of our home so whenever we open the front door we're liable to have the come in.

I don't know how to politely tell them that they need a new compost bin. I mean, I was always under the impression that these items should be well contained, covered properly, and that if compost if well kept should not have that many flies living in it - or around it.

Am I incorrect in this assumption? Maybe someone can enlighten me as to what a "healthy" vs. "unhealthy" compost bin is?

If not, any ideas how to gently request that they fix the problem? I don't want to jeopardize the nice relationship we have. We have gotten friendly, and I suspect they don't have the money to purchase a new bin.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:52 AM   #2
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I don't know about where you are, but in suburban residential areas there are regulations about composting because if it is done improperly (i.e., an open heap or bin with only rotting food waste) it attracts vermin and poses a health hazard.

My parents compost but they put a lot of plant clippings and stuff in it so it actually composts instead of rotting and doesn't attract more than a handful of flies.

Contact your local authorities (sorry, not sure which ones) to inquire about the rules; even if you are in an unincorporated area with no regulations specific to composting, if the situation is a health hazard, and it certainly sounds like one, they should be able to advise you.

If that seems harsh, you could buy them a book on how to compost properly.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:55 AM   #3
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Maybe work "My god, the flies were bad last summer...I hope the new windows we put in help!" into a conversation with them?
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:57 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elora Lunasea View Post
I figured this was the right place to ask this question since several of you do some serious gardening.

My next door neighbor has a really nice set-up in the backyard for their veggies - raised beds, takes good care of them and we reap the benefits of the overages. They've been quite generous, bringing us tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, etc. all last summer.

However, late in the season we happened to have to go into their backyard to take a look at how close their beds were to our detached garage because we'll be painting it and the house and needed to see the condition of it.

The first problem is that the beds are actually on part of our property as it turns out. I looked at our property map to make sure. There is a very narrow strip of land which is ours - just enough to allow a person to get behind the garage for access around the building; plus their fence seems to have been built possibly on our property as well but I believe it was put up before they moved into the house.

I could be an ass about it and make them move the beds - but I'm not going to of course. I did tell them that my painters probably will have to go back there and they were cool about it. I also told them they needed to remove the ivy which is attached to the wall there, which my town has bitched about to us and I've been mandated to remove. We've gotten nearly all of it down on the other sides but it keeps creeping back because of what's on the back. They also agreed to try, or at least keep it more manageable (it looks nice back there with the beds, I do have to say).

Ok, I digress.

The real problem is that they have a huge compost bin back there, just as you walk into the yard. When we saw it, it was crawling with flies. It was in bad condition, cracked and overflowing with compost.

Now, we understood why OUR house, seemed to be over-run with flies over the summer! I mean, we could not understand why we always seemed to have more than several of them in the house. We've replaced the basement windows since last summer which had ways for them to get into the house, so I'm hoping this will help, however, since the compost bin is so close to the entry of our home (the properties at that side of the house are very close to each other, and the bin not more than 10' or so from our house entry I'm guessing); flies are pretty much buzzing all around the front of our home so whenever we open the front door we're liable to have the come in.

I don't know how to politely tell them that they need a new compost bin. I mean, I was always under the impression that these items should be well contained, covered properly, and that if compost if well kept should not have that many flies living in it - or around it.

Am I incorrect in this assumption? Maybe someone can enlighten me as to what a "healthy" vs. "unhealthy" compost bin is?

If not, any ideas how to gently request that they fix the problem? I don't want to jeopardize the nice relationship we have. We have gotten friendly, and I suspect they don't have the money to purchase a new bin.
I do not know anything about compost bins.......

To address them using part of your land. If you let them use it long enough, the property actually becomes theirs. In most states it is 15 years. They can actually win a court case if they can prove they have been using that little piece of land long enough without you addressing it.
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Old 02-20-2012, 10:58 AM   #5
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Thanks Malia.

I actually thought about contacting the Township about it first. Part of the problem is we have a terrible squirrel problem around here also. My porch roof has been eaten away by them numerous times. I know they are eating the fruits of their labor (I've seen them running off with tomatoes in their mouths!) so having a compost bin with partially rotted food in it open to the elements certain could be part of the issue too.

Knowing our town, they surely have rules/regulations about this. For cripes sake they are making me remove ivy from the side of my garage because they think it's an "eyesore" (although honestly I hate it because it's invasive, and had ruined the original garage doors completely - I had to have new ones installed when I moved in).
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:02 AM   #6
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I do not know anything about compost bins.......

To address them using part of your land. If you let them use it long enough, the property actually becomes theirs. In most states it is 15 years. They can actually win a court case if they can prove they have been using that little piece of land long enough without you addressing it.
I just moved into the house 2 years ago, they have been living in theirs (I think) only about 5 years.

I only realized it this past summer because I had to pull out the survey when we were installing the irrigation system and it popped out at me that the fence looked a bit odd in the back corner near the garage, and I couldn't believe that the garage would have been built literally on the properly line (my home is 95 years old and the lot encompasses 3 very small lots, one of which is pretty much a sliver - and that's the one on the side and back of the garage).


Anyway - I should look into that. Thanks for letting me know about it!
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:17 AM   #7
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Maybe work "My god, the flies were bad last summer...I hope the new windows we put in help!" into a conversation with them?
Since you have a good relationship with them, and they are clearly interested in their health and environment, in this case it might be better to be direct and appeal to their interest.

"I'm concerned that your compost seems to be attracting a lot of flies which may pose a health risk to both our families. What can we do about this?"

Once conversation is rolling, you can add:

"Here is some information I found about composting." (give pamphlet, book, authority regulations, etc.)
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:19 AM   #8
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"Here is some information I found about composting." (give pamphlet, book,

"So Your Backyard Smells Like Shit..."
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Old 02-20-2012, 11:21 AM   #9
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Yep, research first and getting a head start before the season sets in sounds good. I surely don't want to wait until spring when the bin is beginning to accumulate.

Now if I could only keep their "enemy cat" away from my back door so my cat won't nearly fly through the glass to try and rake him over the coals...rofl
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Old 02-20-2012, 01:07 PM   #10
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10 years in most states for adverse possession, and it runs with the land, so it doesn't matter how long they lived there. There are ways to defeat it by making the use permissive. You might want to see an attorney. It should be pretty cheap.

Compost, when done properly doesn't smell bad or attract flies. Our compost smells sort of earthy and not bad, and really doesn't attract flies at all. If you put meat in it, that will mess it up, and if you don't keep it aerated by turning it every so often, it can go weird. They need to do something to maintain their compost or it's not going to get any better.
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Old 02-20-2012, 01:20 PM   #11
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If it has flies it's not a "healthy" compost pile. Healthy meaning for the microbes that compost, not necessarily for you.

Flies mean it's too wet and they need to add "brown" material. Sawdust is great if they have it. Leaves are actually "green" material but would work. But with any plant material it needs to be rotated so there isn't any unhealthy rot.

Composting can be done with just a pile and a shovel but for people that don't know what they are doing the best kind are these:



Or something of the like so they can just turn the crank and rotate it.

I'll stop here because Jen will be here any minute and I'm sure she knows more than I do
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Old 02-20-2012, 01:58 PM   #12
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Our looks like this:



Tiers stack together with a folding lid. To rotate the compost, just move the top tier to the ground, and make it your new bottom tier. Shovel and tier up as needed. We just unloaded a year's worth of compost into our garden beds - it was rich and black and crumbly. Like others have said, compost should NOT smell bad. It smells like overripe veggies, sure, but it doesn't stink, and doesn't have flies. Never put any animal poop (except chickens) or meat scraps into a compost - that creates e. Coli problems.

Check into your local Master Gardeners program. We got our compost bin through them - at a very subsidized rate! Your neighbors, as nice as they are, are causing a health problem. I would start by finding a decent compost bin for them, print out the specs and take it over to them; suggest that maybe everyone's fly problems would be diminished this year... then I'd give them a printed out manual of what to compost and what NOT to compost. Lots of people think it's okay to throw dog/cat poop in there, but it's not.

Re: fence and their section/your section... maybe if you tell them that you're willing to let them use that strip in exchange for a decent compost bin?
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Old 02-20-2012, 02:01 PM   #13
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I'll stop here because Jen will be here any minute and I'm sure she knows more than I do
Nope, y'all covered it pretty well.
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Old 02-20-2012, 02:37 PM   #14
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Check into your local Master Gardeners program.
Quite honestly, in my opinion this is the best advice. They usually offer classes too and if your neighbors went that would probably solve all the problems. It sounds like it's not an issue of them not caring, just not knowing.
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Old 02-20-2012, 02:54 PM   #15
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Quite honestly, in my opinion this is the best advice. They usually offer classes too and if your neighbors went that would probably solve all the problems. It sounds like it's not an issue of them not caring, just not knowing.
I'm not so sure about that. They have some really professional looking beds back there. From our discussions, it seems like they know a lot about gardening it just may be they don't know a lot about how to compost properly or, it could just be that the bin broke and they haven't gotten around to getting a new one, which is causing the problem.

I'll have to bite the bullet soon to talk about this with them before it warms up enough to cause another problem. I don't see them too frequently what with all of our work schedules (I leave before dawn, arrive home after dark) but hopefully that will change soon with spring on the verge of arriving. Plus I have to get the right person responsible. It's a mom living there with her daughter and the daughter's girlfriend and I'm not really sure who the one is in charge of the gardening financially and otherwise.

Thanks everyone you gave me a lot of good information. In fact, I'm wondering myself if I have somewhere to put a small bin myself to start up, for the roses that are arriving in a few weeks time. It would be nice to have good organic material for free, and not have to worry about trying to find it all the time once they are settled in.
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Old 02-20-2012, 03:46 PM   #16
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Nope, y'all covered it pretty well.
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Old 02-21-2012, 01:23 PM   #17
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I don't think it's a broken bin. Those flies shouldn't be there, and you can compost without a bin by just piling everything up and turning it frequently. The bin keeps it neater and more compacted, but if you're having trouble with smells and flies, then they aren't putting the right things in their compost.
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Old 02-21-2012, 06:50 PM   #18
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sounds like they are doing a couple of things incorrectly.

1) composting fats. Even vegetable fats. If you cook something in olive/sunflower/any veggie oil don't put it in the compost.
2) composting unclean egg shells. Egg shells are about the only animal product that can go in a compost pile and they must be cleaned of membrane first. That's hard to do though. I save my eggshells for the top of the garden since slugs and other bugs can't crawl over them.
3) not enough brown material. In composting there is brown material like dead leaves, bark, cardboard, brown paper, sawdust, that sort of thing. Then there is green material like vegetable matter, green leaves, grass, that sort of thing. You need equal parts
4) not enough ventilation. You have to stir compost A LOT. Like every day. If you don't the bottom gets wet and rots and the top um... well it gets wet and rots too. Then flies lay eggs and we just don't need to speak more on this process.

All four of these things are very important. When you compost, what you are doing is making dirt -- not a big pile of rotted goo. And it should look like dirt -- not a big pile of rotted goo. Compost should not be attractive to flies. It doesn't matter what you put your compost in -- you could just have a big pile in the back yard and put a fence around it to keep out undesireables. But you need the right amount of green and brown stuff, you need to turn it often, you need to keep out fats. Even if the compost bin is broke, this shouldn't be happening.
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Old 02-28-2013, 12:45 PM   #19
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Reviving this thread...Elora, how did everything turn out?
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Old 02-28-2013, 12:53 PM   #20
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Nothing changed that I remember.
I did see that they moved the bin away from the fence, near the house sometime after all the storms this year. The fence had some damage which I suspect is the reason.

We'll see what happens this year. I'm not hopeful. At least, I had all the basement windows repaired last year, so none can come in that way any longer. And, we rarely use the front door; our slider to the kitchen is the entrance we use most. Maybe we'll invest in some ugly fly strips this year and they'll get the hint lol.
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