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Questions? Write me at fullcirclegardener @ cableone . net.

Composting 101: Compostable Material

Over the last several weeks we have been investigating gardening's black gold, compost.  In my introduction to composting I told you that I would cover some of the basics of starting a compost pile, and then I shared that the easiest way to compost is to get it from someone else. ;)  Last week we examined choosing the right site location & creating a structure or purchasing a composter so that you can start adding material to your own compost pile this week.

I was reading the compost guide that came with the Tumbling Composter that my husband helped his parents set up this last weekend.  I loved how simply they described composting in the following statement.  "Backyard composting is the intentional and managed decomposition of organic materials for the production of compost."  Before we can create 'intentional and managed decomposition' we need to find out what organic material we can add to our pile.

There are different two types of organic material needed in a compost pile.  These two groups of materials are commonly known as the 'greens' & the 'brown's.  Do not let the use of color names throw you off, they are only names.  The greens provide nitrogen, the building blocks, & the browns provide carbon, the energy,  needed by the soil microbes and critters to break down organic matter into compost.   Below you will find a list of the greens and browns you can put into your compost pile.  It is certainly not exhaustive but it does give the majors and some of the unexpected.

Greens (nitrogen):
lawn clippings
fruit/veggie kitchen scraps (peelings, rotten fruit/veggies in your crisper drawer!)
coffee grounds
tea bags
anything pulled from you garden/lawn that is not in seed, diseased or treated with herbicide!
fresh manure (NOT feces from carnivores or omnivores!)
(Note:  keep an ice cream bucket in you kitchen to collect the kitchen scraps; you can empty it all at one time at the end of the day.)

Browns (carbon):
dry leaves
wood ashes
small amounts of untreated sawdust or wood chips
pine needles
shredded cardboard, egg cartons and newspaper (un-colored and non-glossy)*
natural fiber dryer lint
paper towels/tissues (uncolored)

*I've read mixed reviews on using paper because many paper products and inks may have undesirable chemicals.  I do add our shredded documents to my compost pile... no identity theft in there!

pet/human hair
ground seashells
egg shells

DO NOT Put In Your Pile:
meat scraps, animal fats or bones
anything with salt
pet feces (carnivores or omnivores)
anything diseased or with seeds
ANYTHING chemically treated (lawn clippings, weeds, wood, paper,...)
plastic, metal or other non-organic material
glossy or colored paper (ex: magazines)
anything black walnut or red cedar (contains a natural growth inhibitor!)
large amounts of sawdust or wood chips

Did you find anything that surprised you?  Those of you who are already composting, are there any things you like to add to your pile that I didn't include?  Next week we'll examine the details of maintaining a compost pile so that we can create compost as quickly and efficiently as we can.  Be sure to post or email me any questions you have so that I can answer them before our series on composting comes to an end.

Even I have questions occasionally (;P) and I referenced the two sites listed below in preparing this post.
NDSU Extension: Compost
National Gardening Association: Making Compost

Happy (Compost) Gardening! :)

All Posts in the Composting 101 Series:
-Check Local Waste Management
-The 'Pile'
-My 'Piles'
-Compostable Material


  1. Sorry about the crazy spaces in this post everyone! No matter what I do those spaces seem to think they belong in there! :(

  2. Ahh! Figured out how to get rid of those crazy extra spaces. Whew! That was going to drive me crazy. ;}


I would love to hear your gardening comments and/or questions.