Composting Details

All you ever wanted to know about Composting…and then some.

Kitchen scraps are typically high in nitrogen, which helps heat up
the compost pile and speed up the composting process. Egg shells,
coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and scraps are all
outstanding materials to add. Kitchen Refuse includes melon rinds,
carrot peelings, tea bags, apple cores, banana peels – almost
everything that cycles through your kitchen. The average household
produces more than 200 pounds of kitchen waste every year. You can
successfully compost all forms of kitchen waste. However, meat, meat
products, dairy products, and high-fat foods like salad dressings and
peanut butter, can present problems. Meat scraps and the rest will
decompose eventually, but will smell bad and attract pests. Egg shells
are a wonderful addition, but decompose slowly, so should be crushed.
All additions to the compost pile will decompose more quickly if they
are chopped up some before adding.

Keep your compost aerated! If you are composting with a tumbling composter, make sure you turn it whenever you add new materials.

Tips for better composting

Don’t let the compost completely dry out. A compost pile needs moisture to keep the composting process active.

much of any one material will slow down the composting process. If you
have all leaves, all grass clippings or an overload of any other single
type of material, it can throw off the balance of the pile. In general,
it’s good to keep a mix of green and brown material
Among the
brown materials are dried leaves, straw, and wood chips. Nitrogen
materials are fresh or green, such as grass clippings and kitchen

The ideal ratio approaches 25 parts browns to 1 part
greens. Judge the amounts roughly equal by weight. Too much carbon will
cause the pile to break down too slowly, while too much nitrogen can
cause odor. The carbon provides energy for the microbes, and the
nitrogen provides protein.

Leaves represent a large percentage
of total yard waste. Grass Clippings break down quickly and contain as
much nitrogen as manure. Since fresh grass clippings will clump
together, become anerobic, and start to smell, mix them with plenty of
brown material. If you have a lot of grass clippings to compost, spread
them on the driveway or other surface to bake in the sun for at least a
day. Once it begins to turn pale or straw-like, it can be used without
danger of souring.

Compost pail

To collect your kitchen
waste, you can keep a small compost pail in the kitchen to bring to the
pile every few days. Keep a lid on the container to discourage insects.
When you add kitchen scraps to the compost pile, cover them with about
8" of brown material to reduce visits by flies or critters.

Wood Ashes from a wood burning stove or fireplace can be added to the compost pile.

Refuse should make the trip to the pile. All of the spent plants,
thinned seedlings, and deadheaded flowers can be included. Most weeds
and weed seeds are killed when the pile reaches an internal temperature
above 130 degrees, but some may survive. To avoid problems don’t
compost weeds with persistent root systems, and weeds that are going to

Spoiled Hay or Straw makes an excellent carbon base for a
compost pile, especially in a place where few leaves are available. Hay
contains more nitrogen than straw. They may contain weed seeds, so the
pile must have a high interior temperature. The straw’s little tubes
will also keep the pile breathing.

Manure is one of the finest
materials you can add to any compost pile. It contains large amounts of
both nitrogen and beneficial microbes. Manure for composting can come
from bats, sheep, ducks, pigs, goats, cows, pigeons, and any other
vegetarian animal. As a rule of thumb, you should avoid manure from
carnivores, as it can contain dangerous pathogens. Most manures are
considered "hot" when fresh, meaning it is so rich in nutrients that it
can burn the tender roots of young plants or overheat a compost pile,
killing off earthworms and friendly bacteria. If left to age a little,
however, these materials are fine to use.

Manure is easier to
transport and safer to use if it is rotted, aged, or composted before
it’s used. Layer manure with carbon-rich brown materials such as straw
or leaves to keep your pile in balance.

Seaweed is an excellent
source of nutrient-rich composting material. Use the hose to wash off
the salt before sending it to the compost pile.

The list of organic materials which can be added to the compost pile is long.

Beverages, kitchen rinse water    
Yes     Neutral     Good to moisten the middle of the pile. Don’t over-moisten the pile.

   C     Shred into small pieces if you use it. Wetting it makes it
easier to tear. If you have a lot, consider recycling instead.

Coffee ground and filters    
Yes     N     Worms love coffee grounds and coffee filters.

Cornstalks, corn cobs
Yes     C     Best if shredded and mixed well with nitrogen rich materials.

Dryer lint    
Yes     C     Compost away! Moistening helps.

Yes     O     Break down slowly. Crushing shells helps.

Fish scraps     No    

Yes     N     Scatter so it isn’t in clumps.

Meat, fat, grease, oils, bones    
No     n/a     Avoid.

Milk, cheese, yogurt    
Careful     Neutral     Put it deep in the pile to avoid attracting animals.

Yes     C     Shred it so it breaks down easier.
It is easy to add too much newspaper, so recycle instead if you have a
lot. Don’t add slick colored pages.

Oak leaves    
Yes     C     Shredding leaves helps them break down faster. They decompose slowly. Acidic.

Sawdust and wood shavings (untreated wood)    
Yes     C     You’ll need a lot of nitrogen materials to make up for the high carbon content.

Pine needles and cones   
Yes     C   
Don’t overload the pile. Also acidic and decomposes slowly.

pile of organic matter will eventually rot, but a well-chosen site can
speed up the process. Look for a level, well-drained area. If you plan
to add kitchen scraps, keep it accessible to the back door. Don’t put
it so far away you’ll neglect the pile. In cooler latitudes, keep the
pile in a sunny spot to trap solar heat. Look for some shelter to
protect the pile from freezing cold winds which could slow down the
decaying process. In warm, dry latitudes, shelter the pile in a shadier
spot so it doesn’t dry out too quickly.

Build the pile over soil
or lawn rather than concrete or asphalt, to take advantage of the
earthworms, beneficial microbes, and other decomposers, which will
migrate up and down as the seasons change. Uncovered soil also allows
for drainage. If tree roots are extending their roots into the pile,
turn it frequently so they can’t make headway.

Look for a spot
that allows you to compost discretely, especially if you have
neighboring yards in close proximity. Aim for distance and visual
barriers between the pile and the neighbors.
Seasonal Schedule for Composting

black bin situated in a sunny spot can help trap solar radiation during
cold spells. Keep the pile as large as possible so that heat generated
from decomposition will endure.

Compost can range from passive
– allowing the materials to sit and rot on their own (Nancy’s personal
favorite)  to highly managed. Whenever you intervene in the process,
you’re managing the compost. How you compost is determined by your
goal. If you’re eager to produce as much compost as possible to use
regularly in your garden, you may opt for a more hands-on method of
composting. If your goal is to dispose of yard waste, a passive method
is your answer.

Passive composting involves the least amount of
time and energy on your part. This is done by collecting organic
materials in a freestanding pile. Managed composting involves active
participation, ranging from turning the pile occasionally to a major
commitment of time and energy. If you use all the techniques of
managing the pile, you can get finished compost in 3-4 weeks. Choose
the techniques that reflect how much you want to intervene in the
decomposition process and that will be a function of how fast you want
to produce compost.

The speed with which you produce finished
compost will be determined by how you collect materials, whether you
chop them up, how you mix them together, and so on. Achieving a good
balance of carbon and nitrogen is easier if you build the pile all at
once. Layering is traditional, but mixing the materials works as well.

save space, hasten decomposition, and keep the yard looking neat,
contain the compost in some sort of structure. A wide variety of
composting structures can be purchased, or made from a variety of
materials. They can be as simple or complex as desired.

wastes can be composted either in simple holding units, where they will
sit undisturbed for slow decomposition, or in tumbling compost bins,
which produce finished compost as quickly as just a few weeks with a
good mix of materials. This is what I recommend for you.

units are typically a series of bins used for building and turning
active compost piles. A turning unit allows wastes to be conveniently
mixed for aeration on a regular basis.

Making compost is really
quite easy, but having too much of a certain material or letting the
compost get too wet or too dry can cause problems.

Finished compost is dark brown, crumbly, and is earthy-smelling. Small pieces of leaves or other ingredients may be visible.

serves primarily as a soil conditioner, whether it’s spread in a layer
on the soil surface or is dug in. A garden soil regularly amended with
compost is better able to hold air and water, drains more efficiently,
and contains a nutrient reserve that plants can draw on. The amended
soil also tends to produce plants with fewer insect and disease
problems. The compost encourages a larger population of beneficial soil
microorganisms, which control harmful microorganisms. It also fosters
healthy plant growth, and healthy plants are better able to resist

Some people recommend late fall as a good time to spread
compost over a garden bed, and cover it with a winter mulch, such as
chopped leaves. By spring, soil organisms will have worked the compost
into the soil. Others recommend spreading compost two weeks before
planting time in the spring. There is really no wrong time to spread
it. The benefits remain the same.

A compost mulch can benefit
trees and shrubs just as it does other plants. Spread a 1⁄2" to 1"
layer of compost on the bare soil under the tree as far as the drip
line. Then cover with a 2-3" layer of some other kind of organic mulch,
such as chopped leaves or pine needles. The mulch will hold the compost
in place and keep it from drying out.

Adding compost to the
planting hole of small perennial plants is valuable, particularly
perennial food plants. Annuals will also benefit from a dose of compost
at planting time.

Compost is the ultimate garden fertilizer. It
contains virtually all the nutrients a living plant needs and delivers
them in a slow-release manner over a period of years. Compost made with
a wide variety of ingredients will provide an even more nutritious meal
to your growing plants.

Compost is the best material available
to enliven your soil no matter where you live. Farmers around the world
will testify that healthier soil grows healthier plants that naturally
resist disease, insects, and other environmental pressures. Adding
compost to your garden is a long-term investment – it becomes a
permanent part of the soil structure, helping to feed future plantings
in years to come.