– keeping plant materials out of the landfills – keeps landfills
from filling up too fast, and keeps the sun's energy out of the
soil structure and fertility
Minimum Needed to Start a Compost Pile
to break down
to put it
Piles and Methodologies
pile – dig it into the soil (trench composting)
every waste you can for composting from your own house first
tea bags, coffee grounds, veggie and fruit trimmings, food that died
in the fridge; no dog or cat waste, bones and unused meat, these are
poor choices, they break down slowly and/or they attract unwanted
with neighbors for their free waste i.e. coffee grounds, leaves,
local waste that's free – wood chips, sawdust, Starbucks coffee
grounds, scrounge your neighborhood for waste streams that could
prove useful – another's trash could be your treasure
products that contain microbes to inoculate your compost pile. Most
research shows limited use as the number of microbes multiply to full
capacity in short order, but they would do that (more slowly) without
the inoculation. No matter the claims made by the sales force for
such products, most independent research indicate little, if any,
positive long term effect from such products.
too little water, the most common failure in compost piles is a lack
of nitrogen – too little materials with not enough nitrogen to
facilitate heating up or quick decomposition; all the detritivores
need nitrogen to build their protoplasm and do to their work.
Additional inputs of nitrogen will correct a slow pile, assuming that
lack of water is not the problem.
– one of my favorites, sold as livestock feed in feed stores.
One bale sells for under $20. It has some nitrogen and absorbs, and
holds onto moisture making it an excellent addition to a compost
pile. Alfalfa serves as a good compost stimulant and activator.
Alfalfa sold as animal feed in dehydrated pellets or a meal works
just as well too.
pomace – any pomace – leftovers from crushing fruits for
their juice. Will attract yellow jackets and other wasps so cover
them with leaves or soil or straw or hay.
residue – makes a compost
pile go whoopee – seems well supplied with nitrogen and guarantee
lots of bacterial activity
waste – if you should move
near a sugar beet processing plant – many books will recommend beet
waste – be careful, though, now that GMO sugar beets have begun to
– high in phosphorus if you
find yourself within striking distance of a slaughterhouse. Ditto
for blood meal. Five
pound bags should last longer than the printing on the label.
wastes – from your table is
sometimes denigrated as a compost pile component, but it is good in
nutrients and breaks down quickly. If you are near a factory
producing orange and other citrus products – sometimes available
from some feed stores – the more peel the more nitrogen the final
product will contain. They can be hard to break down.
Bean Shells – for those that
live near a chocolate factory – they are rich in nitrogen and
benefit the soil no matter how they are used. They do not break down
quickly so I have used them as pathway mulch. I have heard they are
poisonous to dogs although I used them whilst living with two dogs
and neither dog showed the slightest interest in them. They smell
great, so you might find yourself gorging on chocolate as a result.
wastes – earthworms love them
and they break down nicely. Slightly acidic they make a good mulch
around any acid loving plant (skipping the compost pile altogether).
Mix them with other OM as they hold moisture well. If allowed to
sour, they will attract fruit flies.
meal – commercially available
as fertilizer – used to be a great source of nitrogen but most of
it is now GMO, as well being sprayed with insecticides of all kinds.
I would skip it these days unless you can find a source of organic
cottonseed meal. It is one of the most dependable long
term organic sources for
nitrogen, a rare thing for an organic garden.
– will be one of your most consistent and reliable components in
your compost pile. Do not use meat craps, fat or bones in your pile
for they take too long to fully break down and are very attractive to
scavenging animals. When put into your compost pile, always mix with
absorbent material like dead leaves, straw or hay and cover them
completely with dirt or other substantive materials to prevent smells
and discourage flies.
wastes – from wineries,
producing waste products in the way of skin residue, seeds and stalks
by the ton in pressing season. Not a lot of nutrition but the bulk of
organic plant matter may be useful to achieve a rapid hot compost
clippings – most of us have these or can easily obtain them
from neighbors who have them. Exceedingly rich in nitrogen, and will
heat up on their own if put into a pile, but, because of their shape
and high moisture content can pack down, rotting and turn slimy and
smelly on you. Add grass clippings in small layers and mix with
leaves, garbage and or other materials. Dried grass clippings will
have lost most of their nitrogen, treat like hay or straw. If
the source lawn is being treated with herbicides, use with care –
although the composting process, if done properly, will remove most
of those residues.
– if you can get an amount of it is probably the most concentrated
source of nitrogen you can get for free. Six to seven pounds of hair
can contain as much nitrogen as 100 to 200 pounds of manure. Hair
will decompose rapidly although it may pack down and shed water –
mix with other materials to prevent that. Available for free from
barbershops or hair salons.
– you can buy a bale from a feed store – may contain weed seeds
unless it was cut early – how would you know? If you can find
spoiled hay from a farmer it will be free or at low cost.
– very compostable and available for free to most of us. Leaves,
because of the extensive roots of trees that forage deep into the
subsoil for nutrients, are a superior component in your compost.
Pound for pound, leaves provide twice the mineral content of manure.
They are low in nitrogen and may pack down slowing break down, but
mixed with a good source of nitrogen and kept aerated, they are a
– used with discretion can be an important part of a compost
pile. If you have chickens or rabbits (or any farm animal) I suggest
you use it in your compost pile; but I do not encourage importing
fresh animal manures if you do not know the animal. Many of our farm
animals today get unregulated dosages of medications and that will be
expressed through their feces and urine, furthermore, most animals
today are not pastured and their manure will have high concentrations
of urine in the manure – urine is high in salts. If you do have a
source of manure, use it in the compost pile, get a hot pile and let
it break down thoroughly before incorporating these items into your
soil. If it smells like animal poop, it is still too fresh.
– you can use paper of many kinds even those with colored ink and
slick pages. The secret, and the problem, for using paper waste is
they need to be shredded or chopped into fine bits for successful
incorporation into the pile. I have used paper from an office
shredder, but it was difficult to wet and until wetted was airborne
faster than corn pollen. Wetted newsprint is excellent. Use like
needles – in the south it's called pine straw, but they break
down super slowly. They are highly acidic and that means they should
not be used intemperately. They have been found effective at
controlling Fusarium wilts.
hulls – a great source of potash and break down readily in your
compost pile. They are an excellent soil conditioner, are loved in
the compost heap and are a desirable mulch. Many soil conditioners
contain large amounts of rice hulls for the 'fluffy.'
– available from lumber yards or furniture refinishers. It is
valuable as a source of a carbon and helps allow good air penetration
into the compost pile. It is slow to break down – the robbing of
nitrogen that is often a source of concern for gardeners, most
research (my own anecdotal experience included) shows that is not a
– free and available on the beach, but, some folks worry about the
radioactive level since the recent nuclear power plant problems in
Japan. It has a similar nutrient level as manure, but should be
composted while fresh. While I have worried about salt content, I
see no mention of it in most composting literature. Seaweed contains
a multitude of micronutrients essential to human and plant health.
Mix with other materials and it will decompose quickly. Kelp meal can
be used as an activator in compost.
– not an essential component in a working compost pile, it can
prove helpful. Soil can be used as an inoculate to imbue your pile
with microbial activity. Most gardeners, though, add a small amounts
of finished compost to a new pile as an activator, which is probably
a better strategy.
– adds few nutrients but does add organic material and helps aerate
a compost pile. It adds carbon to the pile and is a sort of plant
food. If using a lot of straw, add commensurate amounts of nitrogen.
Straw that has already begun to break down is a wonderful addition to
any compost pile.
leaves – high content of nitrogen (about 4.15%) and breaks down
– non-perennial weeds can be be placed in the compost pile as
long as they are not seeding. Some weeds, like mallow, have an
incredible tap root and bring materials from the subsoil up which is
in the plant leaves and stems making their contribution to the
compost pile much more desirable. However, some weeds, like Bermuda
grass, which also has a tremendous root system (Bermuda roots are
known to go as far as 27 feet deep!) will only grow in your compost
pile – don't risk it.
ashes – a valuable source off potash. Use cautiously for they
have a strong alkalizing effect and might also increase soil
chips – useful in the garden and
compost pile. They do break down slowly, but even as they break down
they increase the moisture holding capacity and aerate the soil. If
your soil has enough nitrogen to begin with, decomposing wood chips
should not adversely affect your soil's nitrogen availability.