Composting has recently become more popular among home gardeners looking for a cheap alternative to purchasing fertilizer. Not only does composting save you money, but it also helps the environment by reducing the amount of organic matter that you throw away. This limits the amount of methane gas landfills create, reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
The basics of what you can and can’t compost are fairly straightforward. Various forms of organic matter are generally able to be used as compost and inorganic matter like plastics, styrofoam, and metals cannot. To create a healthy compost bin, it is recommended that you have a ratio of nitrogen-rich “green” materials and carbon-rich “brown” materials. The exact ratio varies depending on the source, but it is generally considered to be 25 parts carbon (brown) to one part nitrogen (green). The following are some of the materials that you can use in your compost bin.
Green materials include the wet, nitrogen-rich fresh plant matter and plate scrapings of your home. Nitrogen is an important protein source for the microbes in the compost and helps to speed up the decomposition process. If using food, it’s best to use uncooked varieties as the oils used during cooking may slow down the decomposition process. The type of green materials that can be added to compost include:
- Grass trimmings
- Tea bags and tea leaves
- Potato peels
- Strawberry tops
- Apple cores
- Banana peels
- Carrot peelings and carrot tops
- Bits and pieces of various fruits and uncooked vegetables
- Food scrapings. Avoid using meat and bones as they can contain harmful bacteria that can slow down the decomposition process and attract pests.
- Egg shells. Make sure you crush these and don't compost the yolk.
- Garden plants free from disease
- Certain kinds of garden and lawn weeds
- Flowers and cuttings
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Manure from herbivores like chickens and cows
Brown materials include the dry, carbon-rich substances from woody plants or paper and cardboard packaging. The most effective way to introduce these materials into your compost bin is to shred or otherwise cut the material down so that it naturally breaks down more quickly in the bin. Carbon is used as an energy source for the compost microbes to do their work and carbon materials will comprise the bulk of your compost matter. Brown materials you can compost include:
- Dried leaves. These are excellent sources of carbon for your compost and if you are lucky enough to live in an area with many fall trees are found in abundance.
- Paperboard items like cereal boxes and other cardboard packaging. Try to shred or otherwise break these materials down for better assimilation into the compost pile.
- Pine needles and pine cones
- Nuts and shells
- Sawdust and wood shavings. Use these in moderation as they decompose slowly and are better used in thin, well-mixed amounts. Avoid using chemically-treated wood, particle board or plywood.
- Shredded newspaper and tissue paper
- Corn Stalks
- Shredded pine needles
- Small amounts of wood ash
There are many different natural substances that you can use in compost. Generally, all plate scrapings (except for meat and bones), fresh and dry plant matter and various paper and cardboard products can be composted. Remember to follow the recommended ratios for carbon and nitrogen materials. Avoid the materials that will slow the decomposition process or create an odor and attract animals. Follow the proper methods with your compost, and you’ll be on your way to creating a cost-efficient, nutrient-rich fertilizer for your garden and contributing to a healthy environment.