What to Compost

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Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that is excellent for adding to houseplants or enriching garden soil. It is the way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal. It's easy to learn how to compost.

There are a tremendous number of options for containing your compost. Some people choose to go binless, simply building a compost pile in a convenient spot on the ground. Others build bins from materials such as recycled pallets, or two-by-fours and plywood. And, of course, there are many commercial bins on the market.

Composting is not a new idea. In the natural world, composting is what happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, the rotting leaves are returned to the soil, where living roots can finish the recycling process by reclaiming the nutrients from the decomposed leaves. Composting may be at the root of agriculture as well. Some scientists have speculated that as early peoples dumped food wastes in piles near their camps, the wastes rotted and were terrific habitat for the seeds of any food plants that sprouted there. Perhaps people began to recognize that dump heaps were good places for food crops to grow, and began to put seeds there intentionally.

The Browns

  • Autumn leaves
  • Hay & straw, cornstalks
  • Shredded cardboard & newspaper (newspaper inks are soy-based which are OK)
  • Paper plates, bags, towels
  • Chipped brush, sticks, twigs, branches, bark
  • Sawdust
  • Pine needles (but not more than 10% of the pile)

The Greens

  • Vegetable & fruit wastes (potatoes and/or their skins best)
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds, filters, & teabags
  • Horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, gerbil, goat, sheep, rabbit, pig manure
  • Weeds without weed seeds & other yard waste (without chemicals)
  • Grass clippings (but not if you use harmful chemicals on your grass!)
  • Seaweed (give it a good soak to remove excess salt)

What NOT to compost

In theory, almost anything can be composted except the waste of humans, cats, & dogs. Commercial composters compost many things that those of us with home piles shouldn't, because they don't have to worry so much about bad odors, pests, or weeds. But as a general rule, avoid composting the following to keep your pile free of toxins, odors, pests such as rats, and weeds:

  • Meat/pork, chicken, fish, bones
  • Fat, grease, oils
  • Peanut butter
  • Dairy products
  • Foods cooked with sauces or butter
  • Dog, cat, or human waste
  • Plants with diseases
  • Weeds with seeds
  • Weed vines

Remember, if you keep a ratio of 3 parts browns to 1 part greens, your compost will decompose faster and without a lot of odors. In actual practice here's what this means: get your pile started with 3 parts of your leftover fall leaves and yard waste and add one part vegetable & fruit scraps and mix. Continue to add food scraps and mix them in, making sure that you add additional browns as you go along to keep the ratio at 3:1.


Link to Fourthway's poster "How to make compost": http://www.fourthway.co.uk/posters/pages/compost.html

I'll write more how to compost later, when to turn, hot vs. cold composting, pile/heap vs. bin, etc. Written by ?1?

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