Friday, February 20, 2009

What Can I Put in My Compost?

© photo copyright Carrie Boyko

Coffee Gounds are Good for Compost

or Just as a Soil Additive

Before the holidays, I wrote about composting quite a bit, as I was just beginning to start composting. So, for reference, here are the links on my initial phase:

Composting: What is It and Why Do It?

Selecting a Spot and Setting Up a Compost Pile

Kitchen Compost Storage

Healthy Choices for Your Compost Pile

More Composting Options and Information

What Do I do With Large Quantities of Material to Compost?

I was forewarned that my first batch of compost would be the slowest, due mostly to lack of skill on my part. I also quickly figured out that I am a lazy composter, so I added on several months to the estimate I was given as to when I would actually have compost ready. After all, it wasn't as much about the compost for me, as it was about not sending stuff to the landfill or through my garbage disposal to the water treatment facility.
Now, my first compost pile is beginning to show signs of near readiness, despite its lack of the recommended attention. It is rather fun to see the transformation from garbage and paper to what looks more like rich soil. This stuff will help my plants retain moisture, absorb nutrients and flourish.
Best of all, I have been sending very little to the landfill since I began composting, along with my stepped-up recycling efforts. It's actually exciting to take out my trash on pickup day. I look down the street and see so many cans, bags and boxes overflowing with household discards. My little one-half bag looks almost, well, like we don't throw much away. That is becoming more true every day. I'm doing more recycling, reusing, remaking, donating and composting--all of which give new life to most of what we formerly would have discarded. It feels good. I may even tackle Ebay at some point. Any tips?

Back to the subject at hand. I've been hearing a few more questions lately about what can actually go into a compost bin or pile. So, here goes. Hopefully, this will be a fairly comprehensive list, but please feel free to use the COMMENT link below the post, if you have questions. I'd love to hear from you.
  1. Yard debris: weeds, dead plants, grass clippings, mulch, small twigs, leaves, etc. The keys here are small and not diseased. Don't put in large branches or diseased plant material.
  2. Junk mail and other paper items, such as the following:
  3. Magazines, with their covers removed (covers often have a shiny varnish on them that will not decompose well or be healthy for your plants)
  4. Junk mail that doesn't include excessively shiny/varnished/heavier paper. Do not include envelopes with celophane windows.
  5. Used printer paper, letters to be discarded, etc. will compost very well. To speed up the process, you might want to put it all through a shredder.
  6. Newspaper biodegrades quickly. Of course, it is also recyclable in most municiple recycling programs.
  7. Boxes made of paste board (cereal, etc.), corrugated cardboard (I recommend cutting or tearing it into smaller pieces), or heavy paper similar to poster board. The smaller the pieces, the faster the compost.
  8. Paper bags of any kind, unless heavily varnished.
  9. Paper Towel and Toilet Paper Tubes
  10. Dryer Lint
  11. Rags or discarded clothing made of natural fibers: cotton, wool, silk, hemp (remove buttons, zippers, etc.)
  12. Foods, cooked, raw, or spoiled: All foods except meat, meat fats and dairy products (yogurt, cream cheese, cheese, etc.) can go into compost.
  13. Miscellaneous household discards: tissues, cutips, cotton balls, paper towels, straw wrappers, note paper, used wrapping paper (not heavily varnished), receipts, paper tags from purchases, greeting cards, envelopes without celophane windows, untreated wooden skewers, wooden toothpicks, used napkins--okay, you get the idea. Just be mindful of what is on these items: i.e. cotton balls with nail polish remover, for instance, would not qualify. Neither would paper towels used with chemical cleaners.
  14. Coffee grounds are wonderful for assisting with the nitrogen balance in compost. You can pick up free bags of grounds at Starbucks. I have found that they also balance the aroma, when the pile takes on a certain scent.
  15. Egg Shells are also said to be good for your compost.

Now, for just a word or two on the balance of all this stuff. My composting mentor at Jolly Green Planet tells me that compost should always smell like a rain forest. If not, the cure is generally to add more brown material.

When adding materials, generally, alternate layers of brown and green materials. That brings me to the concept of brown and green. Apparently, dead stuff is considered brown and live or moist stuff is considered green. So, discarded foods and weeds or fresh grass clippings are all green materials. Paper, cloth and dead plant materials are all brown.

You may be asking what's next. That depends on how quickly you want compost. If you're in a hurry, then a routine of stirring the composting materials is said to be the most important thing you can do to speed up the process. I would add to that one tip. When your bin or pile is relatively full of fairly new materials that are not yet composted, stop adding and create a new pile. Allow pile number one to do its thing, with or without your assistance. By not continuing to add to it, you will allow the microorganisms to catch up on working their way through its contents more quickly, and get you to your goal faster.

Monday I'll be back to touch on composting your yard wastes, without food. This is another art, which I am just venturing into. It doesn't appear to be nearly as intimidating, so join me if you can. We'll get our yards into shape for Spring, and create a place to compost the debris, OR you could buy a compost bin. That would be nice tidy way to handle this matter.

If you're considering that possibility, I've selected a variety of ways you could do it, from "do it yourself" to automatic. Isn't shopping online great? It is so easy to compare. Have fun!

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