Composting is a great way to recycle nutrients from your kitchen and yard into something useful. Composting also helps decrease the amount of waste added to our landfills.
Composting uses naturally present microorganisms to help decompose waste materials. While the microorganisms work, they produce heat, and this heat kills most weeds, weed seeds, diseases and insects. Home composting piles vary in size but are generally small enough so the home gardener can turn them. These piles cannot get as hot as those in large composting facilities.
What Can I Compost?
Here is a list of the types of materials that can and cannot be composted in the home garden compost pile.
Compost Yes (Do Compost)
- Kitchen fruit and vegetable scraps
- Coffee, coffee filters, teabags
- Chicken, rabbit, cow or horse manure
- Breads and grains
- Most weeds, new leaves and grass clippings
- Eggshells, cotton or wool rags
- Paper towels, napkins, newspaper, etc.
- Fireplace ashes, cardboard rolls
- Shredded wood smaller than 1.5 inches
- Dry leaves, grass, hay, straw, sawdust
Compost No (Don’t Compost)
- Meat, dairy and fish byproducts
- Grease, fat, oils
- Dog or cat feces and/or litter
- Aluminum, tin, metal, glass
- Invasive weeds like bermudagrass or nutgrass, etc.
- Wood pieces thicker than 1.5 inches
- Diseased plants
- Firestarter logs, charcoal ash (from barbecue grills, etc.)
- Plastic, painted or treated wood
Greens and Browns
The components used in compost piles are called “greens and browns” and need to be carefully monitored for the right balance of air, moisture, and temperature. Don’t worry about getting the perfect ratio of the two components, instead use observation to determine whether the pile should have added moisture (add greens like grass clippings, or water) or be allowed to dry slightly (add browns like dry leaves).
Types of Composting
Composting can be done in three different ways – quickly, moderately or slowly. The ideal size for a compost pile is 36” by 36” by 36.”Read about the different types of composting and then choose which one you think is best for you.
The quick composting method results in compost in as little as 2-3 weeks. It involves turning your pile frequently to help maintain the correct balance of temperature, air and moisture in the pile. Read The Rapid Composting Method developed by Robert D. Raabe of UC Berkeley.
The moderate or “traditional” method of composting is the one most gardeners are familiar with. To create your pile, alternate layers of green and brown materials. Keep your pile moist but not too wet. Turn the pile several times per week so it gets good air circulation. The microbes in the pile need oxygen to survive and so they can do their best job at decomposing your pile. Depending on the time of year, your pile can take several weeks or months to be complete.
Remember, in order for your pile to finish, you have to stop adding new materials. You’ll probably need to start another compost pile. It’s common for gardeners to have at least 2 or more compost piles going at the same time, all in various stages of decomposition.
The slow method of composting involves piling materials together and letting them sit for over a year. This method works well if you have a lot of space, and is also helpful for gardeners who are not physically able to turn a compost pile. The downside of this type of composting is the pile does not generate enough heat to kill all weeds, weed seeds and diseases. For more information, read Slow, Cool Composting the Easy Way from Oregon State University.
Vermicomposting or using worms to compost your kitchen scraps is a great way to compost small amounts of scraps. The worms need to be fed and taken care of with specific kitchen scraps, and every few months you’ll need to move the worms out to harvest their castings (worm poo) which are great for use in houseplants or the garden. Learn more about Vermicomposting from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.
For many years compost “tea” has been touted as a beneficial way to suppress weeds in the garden. But what does the research say? Read more about compost tea from University of Arizona Cooperative Extension..