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Compost Materials - What to Compost

And, What Not to Compost

More and more gardeners and homeowners are composting. The resurgence of composting, is the result of four things:

  1. The growing "go green" effort. More people are environmentally conscious.

  2. Composting keeps valuable resources, like compostable kitchen scraps, out of the waste stream.

  3. Save, and even to make $$$. Composting reduces or eliminates the need to buy fertilizers. Some people are even selling the compost they produce!

  4. Are you concerned about the quality and safety of the food you eat? Composting is great for organic gardening. Gardeners know the healthy value of clean, organic compost.   

And, so you ask......... "What can I compost?" Listed below, are items you can put into your composter or garden compost pile. You just might be surprised at what qualifies for organic composting.

The Right Mix

To turn kitchen scraps and other materials into compost, your composting project needs the proper mixture of "Browns" (also called Carbons), and "Greens" (items containing Nitrogen). Greens containing nitrogen, get the decomposition process started, and keeps it going.

Use a Nitrogen to Carbon ratio of 4 to 1. In other words, use 4 parts of green materials to every one part of brown materials. In order for the compost to decompose at a reasonable rate, there should be between 60% to 80% green materials. A higher amount of green materials can result in a gooey,  messy, ammonia smelling pile. Too little nitrogen, and the compost will not decompose, or will do so ever so slowly.

Tip: The more types of materials that you put into your compost mix, the wider the range of essential plant micro-nutrients in the finished product. 

Now that you understand the importance of the right mix, lets see what items are "Greens", and what are "Browns".

Brown Materials (Carbon):
  • Branches and twigs, chop finely for quicker decomposition

  • Dead, dried up weeds

  • Dead flowers

  • Dead leaves

  • Newspaper (black and white, no colored paper or colored inks)

  • Sawdust

  • Shells from clams, lobsters, oysters, etc. Rinse and finely crush first, it's rich in calcium.

  • Straw or hay

  • Wood/fireplace ash - lots of potash, alkaline pH

  • Wood chips and wood shavings

  • Wooden Chopsticks

  • Old mulch - wood, cocoa shells, pine bark

  • Plant roots

  • Pine cones and needles -  in small amounts, as they are acidic

  • Peanut shells - they break down slowly.

Tip: Shred materials before putting them into your composter. This creates more surface area for bacteria to do its job, and increases the rate of decomposition.

Green Materials (Nitrogen):
  • Coffee grounds (it's okay to toss in the paper filter)

  • Egg shells, they have plenty of calcium

  • Grass clippings, very high in nitrogen

  • Kitchen fruit scraps

  • Banana peels, orange peels

  • Stale bread

  • Pasta and sauce (not the meatballs)

  • Kitchen vegetable scraps

  • Leftover pizza - remove the pepperoni and sausage

  • Manures (not pet or human) in small amounts

  • Seaweed(wash off salt, if taken from the ocean)

  • Weeds, recently pulled and still green

What Else to Compost:
  • Brown cardboard

  • Hair trimming, yes human hair

  • Paper plates and napkins - white

  • Brown paper bags

  • Paper Towels, but not if used to wipe chemicals, oil, grease, etc..

  • Paper towel and toilet paper cardboard inner spools.

  • Cardboard core of rolls of wrapping paper

  • Toothpicks

  • Vegetable oil- in small amounts

  • Kleenex

  • Tea bags

  • White, 100% cotton t-shirts (no colors, no synthetic materials)

  • Wax paper- if the wax is organic

  • Stale bread, or feed the birds with it

  • Corks from wine bottles - will decompose very, very slowly.

Note: Fireplace ash does not need to be composted. It is already broken down. However, many people mix a little fireplace ash into raw or finished compost. The emphasis is on "a little".

What Not to Compost:

Knowing what "not to compost" is as important as knowing what to compost.  

  • Avoid weeds with lots of seeds

  • Bones, unless finely crushed first.

  • Dairy products, except in very limited quantity

  • Dead animals

  • Fish

  • Meats

  • Poisonous plants like Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac.

  • Treated wood, contains toxins you do not want in you vegetable garden.

  • Walnut trees, any parts of this tree. It contains "jugoline", toxic to plants.

  • Colored print material/inks - They can contain toxic chemicals.

  • Colored papers

  • Plastics - Do not toss in plastic bags, saran wrap etc. into the composter.

  • Cooking fats, except small amounts of vegetable oil.

Did You Know? Depending upon what you put into your composter, finished compost may not be pH neutral. Test the soil from time to time.  See: Compost pH and More on pH levels

Related Topics:

More on Composting - more about the composting process.

Mushroom Compost - guess what it is made of????

Compost Honey Hole


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