Composting do and dont’s

The raw materials that go into compost come from organic waste. These green, organic disposables can come from your garden, your kitchen, and even your home at large (see Coffee Grounds and Compost). The more of it you keep from the trash, the more you keep from landfills. According to the United States EPA, yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 20-30 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. That’s a lot of waste to send to landfills when it could become beneficial, environmentally sound compost instead!

Efficient and easy to use! The composting bins and supplies available at Planet Natural will reward you with piles of rich organic matter to use in your yard, garden, or houseplants.

The best thing about making your own compost is that you can control what goes in it and keep the harmful stuff out (see Can you Compost Tomatoes?). You control the balance of ingredients and don’t rely on any one component, say the ubiquitous “forest products” that make up so many commercial grades of compost.

A variety of ingredients — brown and green — are needed in the pile. The more varied the materials in your compost, the richer the finished product, filled with micro-nutrients and diverse, beneficial microbial life, will be. Here’s our list with special considerations and no-nos:

IngredientsIncludeLeavesGrass clippingsBrush trimmingsManure (preferably organic)Any non-animal food scraps: fruits, vegetables, peelings, bread, cereal, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags (preferably minus the staples)Old winePet bedding from herbivores ONLY — rabbits, hamsters, etc.Dry cat or dog foodDust from sweeping and vacuumingDryer lintOld herbs and spicesNeed Prep or Special TimeAll of these items can be added to compost, but if you just toss them into a normal heap, they may still be there, virtually unchanged, a season or two later. Be prepared.Shredded newspaper, receipts, paper bags, etc (any non-glossy paper)Tissues, paper toweling, and cotton balls — unless soaked with bacon fat, kerosene, makeup, or other stuff that doesn’t belong in the pile!Cardboard, egg cartons, toilet rollsUsed clothes, towels, and sheets made from natural fabrics — cotton, linen, silk, wool, bambooOld string & twine made of natural fabricsPine needlesPine conesSaw dustWood chipsNut shellsTwigsHair, human or otherwiseOld, dry pastaNut shellsCorn cobsPits from mangos, avocados, peaches, plums, etc.Toothpicks, wine corksAvoidRaspberry & blackberry bramblesLong twigs or big branchesReal No-NosPet droppings, especially dogs & catsAnimal products — meat, bones, butter, milk, fish skins

Composting Grass Clippings

Grass trimmings are the quintessential compost ingredient. But more than one composter has discovered, to his distress, that the grass he dumped into his compost pile, instead of decaying into a nice, dark, crumbly, humus-rich compost, has instead putrefied into a slimy, stinky mess.

Grass does indeed make a fine feed-stock for compost, but it easily compacts into an oxygen-free mat. Since it contains a high percentage of water (over 50%), it swiftly goes anaerobic in the absence of oxygen. To prevent this, it should be mixed with other ingredients in the bin or with soil or even sawdust before it’s added to the pile. At the very least, spread the grass out over the top of the pile.

Sawdust, wood chips, sticks and twigs (best shredded or chopped), and pine needles can be added to compost, but be aware that their carbon content is very high. They will require a long time and/or a lot of nitrogen to break down. Use them in only moderate amounts, and add them in thin layers or mix them in with other ingredients, so the maximum surface area will be exposed to air and to microbes. Sawdust, like grass clippings, tends to form dense, anaerobic clumps that resist composting, so this material, in particular, should only be sprinkled into a compost heap in thin layers.

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