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Do's and Don't to Add to Your Compost Pile

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This Information Comes From The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A & M UNiversity and Auburn University)

Compost Ingredients







A

alfalfa hay

Nitrogen (13:1). Compost in compost pile.

algae

Nitrogen. Provides a good source of trace elements.

animal products

Recommended that you do not compost. See Food Wastes.

apples, apple peels, leaves

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes for reasons we recommend that you not compost food in backyard piles. If you decide to compost apples, they will decompose faster if you put them in a bag and slam them against concrete first to bruise them. A bruised apple attracts decomposers faster.

Leaves (carbon) may be composted in compost pile.

aquatic weeds

Nitrogen. Compost in compost bin.

ash

Neither Carbon nor Nitrogen. Compost wood ash only in thin layers or add to finished compost. Some texts say not to use ash at all. Others say to use it as long as no chemicals were used on the materials which were burned.

Rodale's book says that wood ash will increase the alkalinity and salinity of the soil, and should only be used if a soil test indicates acidic soil which needs additional potassium to be balanced.

Do not use ash from coal or charcoal. It may contain substances that harm plants.

 





B

banana peels

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

Although I have not tried it myself, the Winter 1997 issue of Garden, Deck and Landscape magazine says you can plant banana peels just under the soil around your rose bushes. The peels are rich in calcium, sulphur, and phosphorus and will make your roses thrive.

bamboo

Green bamboo leaves and stems are nitrogens when green but, like grass, become carbons as they age. Bamboo stems will also harden as they age and should be split before composting.

bark

Carbon (100:1). Compost in backyard pile, but will compost slowly. Good for bulking material on bottom of bin to help aerate pile.

bat guano

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile.

beer, brewery wastes

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile. Beer goes stale after a certain period of time, about 60 days. If you have a source of spent beer nearby, use it to water your piles.

birthday card

See Greeting Card

black walnuts

I have not found a definite answer on black walnuts, but there is so much controversy that I have to recommend that you not include them in your pile. The roots of the black walnut tree are rather extensive and produce a substance called juglone that can be toxic to other plants. The juglone which is present in the leaves is decomposed during hot composting after one month, but all leaves must be exposed to the hot part of the pile. To test, make compost tea from the compost. Soak some alfalfa seeds in the compost tea and some in regular water, then compare their germination. Alfalfa is sensitive to juglone. I have been told that black raspberries, iris, and daylilles are not affected by juglone. (My thanks to Frank Teuton for this information on black walnuts.)

blood meal, dried blood

Nitrogen (4:1). Compost in backyard compost pile. Bury in center of pile or at least cover with a thick layer of carbons to avoid flies and other pests.

 

bones

See Meat and Meat Bones

books

There are many ways to recycle books. Check with your local library. The library system in Plano, TX, USA has a system set up for citizens to donate their used books and magazines to the library. The library sells these books and magazines for various prices ranging from fifty cents to three dollars. The proceeds from these sales contributes to the cost of running the library. This is an excellent way to contribute to the community and recycle at the same time.

If your local library does not have a program like this, suggest one. If that doesn't work, remember the libraries of cities and towns which have experienced natural disasters such as floods. Many of the libraries in these towns have lost some or all of their book inventory. Project Inkslinger (American Mensa) is an ongoing nationwide project to supply new and used books to libraries in need due to natural or financial disaster. The project collects books at the local level, so contact your local Mensa chapter for details. You may call 1-800-666-3672 for help in locating your local chapter if it is not listed on the web site.

Give the books to a local nursing home, hospital, homeless shelter, reading program, or other charitable organization. One additional way is to look in your Yellow Pages under "Book Dealers -- Used" to find a reseller of used books who will buy them from you. The amount they pay you depends on many factors, including their opinion as to how easy it will be to resell your book, whether or not they currently have enough books in stock, whether or not they have enough books on the subject matter of the book you are willing to sell, the condition of your book and the price for which they can resell the book. For books you think may be rare, go to a rare book dealer. While you are there, take a look around. To complete the recycling loop, those used books must be sold to people like you.

bracken (ferns)

Young green bracken is among the "nitrogens", but when the fronds die in the autumn most of their nitrogen has been withdrawn so, at that point, they would be a carbon. Their stems are a bit woody, so they may not compost as fast. Be prepared to pick or filter the stems out of finished compost and put back into the bin.

butter

See Dairy Products

 





C

cabbage

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

cardboard

Carbon (200-500:1). In some areas, soiled cardboard is not acceptable for municipal recycling. However, if your local program is recycling cardboard by composting, it should be acceptable. Contact your local solid waste department to find out.

Cardboard is able to be composted, but should be torn up or shredded first. It contains high amounts of carbon, so you may want to compost it in your "slow-compost bin".

You can soak either corrugated or paper cardboard in water, then shred and put into your worm bin as bedding.

Cardboard can also be used under a layer of mulch which is several inches thick, or wood chip paths if there are no plants currently growing there which you want to keep. This is how I most often use cardboard. When preparing a new bed, this is a good way to get rid of a lot of weeds. The cardboard or paper will keep out the light, so the weeds will not survive.

carrots

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

cat feces

Don't put in compost pile. There is disgreement over whether or not you should use cat feces in your compost pile. Some authors say "Of course you can" and others say "No, never!". The concern is this: Cat feces may in fact carry parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens and viruses that are harmful to humans -- ONE OF THESE ORGANISMS (Toxoplasma gondii) IS KNOWN TO CAUSE SEVERE BRAIN DAMAGE TO UNBORN CHILDREN. I read one author who stated that the hot compost pile would probably kill most parasites. However, you would have to closely monitor the part of the pile that the feces were in to be sure it reached the maximum temperature. Because we put safety and health at the top of our priority list, we recommend that you do not put these in your pile.

Other options I have read include: Flush down the toilet. Bury in the ornamental section of your landscaping as long as it is not within 100 feet of a domestic water well, lake, or stream, and somewhere that it will not be disturbed for two years.

Other cautions: Handle as little as possible, preferably wear gloves. Children and pregnant women should not handle at all.

I am often asked why the same cautions are not applied to other animals such as rabbits, chickens, geese, cattle, etc. Animals that eat vegetative matter are not as likely to pick up and pass on diseases that are harmful to humans as are meat-eating animals. Either a dog or cat may chew on a dead bird or squirrel that died of a disease, has rabies, etc. Harmful bacteria and pathogens may be passed through to feces, which may or may not be destroyed by composting. Then children, pregnant women or other humans are exposed to the disease while out in the yard or garden. If you have a pet other than a cat, dog, or bird (whose feces should also not be composted), you can ask your veterinarian. They are very familiar with the types of issues which exists with pet feces and should be able to advise you.

Let me add that I do NOT send my dog poop to the landfill. On this site (under More Methods) are instructions for building a soil ingestor and that is what I use to disposes of pet feces.

celery

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

cheese

See Dairy Products

chicken

See Meat and Meat Bones

clover

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile.

coffee grounds

Nitrogen (20:1). Compost in the worm bin or pile. Note that coffee grounds are about the same ratio as grass, which may be helpful in the fall if you have more carbons than nitrogen.

The WSU Master Gardener Program of Thurston County, Washington, did some testing with coffee grounds. They suggest that you put coffee grounds into your worm bin soon after brewing so that they don't sour or attract fruit flies. (Be sure to put them between layers of bedding, not on top.) They found that fruit flies were attracted to coffee grounds put in an enclosed bin, but not an open one. Be sure to keep the open pile well watered so that grounds do not dry out. After brewing, coffee ground contain up to 2% nitrogen.

Susan Mecklenburg at Starbucks Coffee was kind enough to provide the following analysis of spent Starbucks coffee grounds, with credit to Organic Waste Utilization Research Group, College of Forest Resources, University of Washington

Some help with notation interpretation comes from Rob Dobson, Environmental Chemist, Sustainable Environmental Solutions, Inc.:
ug/g is micrograms per gram (the u is really a greek letter mu, which looks much like a u). A microgram is 1/1,000,000 of a gram, so this can also be called parts per million.
ND means "not detected"

         Primary Nutrients

o        1.45% Nitrogen

o        ND ug/g Phosphorous

o        1204 ug/g Potassium

         Secondary Nutrients

o        389 ug/g Calcium

o        448 ug/g Magnesium

o        high ug/g Sulfur

         Micronutrients

o        32 ug/g Boron

o        6.28 ug/g Copper

o        32.1 ug/g Iron

o        7.82 ug/g Manganese

o        ND ug/g Molybdenum

o        3.31 ug/g Zinc

         Non-nutrients

o        31.5 ug/g Aluminum

o        ND ug/g Arsenic

o        1.75 ug/g Barium

o        ND ug/g Cadmium

o        ND ug/g Chromium

o        66.8 ug/g Sodium

o        1.52 ug/g Nickel

o        ND ug/g Lead

o        ND ug/g Silicon

If you need more nitrogen for your pile, call your local coffee shop and ask if they will donate some grounds to your pile! Many coffee shops are set up for this.

coffee filters

Carbon (170:1). Compost with coffee grinds in the worm bin. If shredded, can also go in piles.

color newspaper inserts

Do not compost unless you can ascertain that the dyes are vegetable dyes. Inks may contain lead.

cornstalks

Carbon (60:1). Compost in backyard compost pile. Can also compost cobs, but slowly.

 





D

dairy products

Do not compost. Most of these items will eventually decompose. We do not recommend that you compost them in your backyard compost pile because they are likely to create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies. (In addition to being a general nuisance, rodents and flies may carry diseases.) Your area may have ordinances against composting these items for the same reasons.

Editor's Note: I received the following suggestion from a reader. I have no idea if this idea has merit or not. Any experts out there care to comment?
Hello Mary
I have found your site very informative and have enjoyed it. I have a suggestion for composting of dairy products that you might be able to include in your list and alternatives of composting materials. My septic installer said to forget about all those septic starters you read about and just include a well soured gallon of milk or some cottage cheese to the septic via the opening or the toilet as it contains the bacteria needed to keep a septic working in peak performance. It would stand to reason that any soft dairy product i.e. not cheese would be good in any anaerobic process as it adds the necessary bacteria to digest the contents. At a minimum anyone with a septic would be wise to use this advice as it serves double duty. They get rid of the soured dairy product and it gives their septic system a boost.
Thank You,
Tyron Byrd
The Byrd's Nest

diseased plants

Don't compost. Send to municipal composting site. Large municipal or commercial composting sites usually reach much higher temperatures than home piles, and the heat will kill the disease. Check with your solid waste department for guidance.

Diseases and Insects can survive composting, as can their spores or eggs. These include, but are not limited to, apple scab, aphids, and tent caterpillars.

dog feces

Don't put in compost pile. There is disgreement over whether or not you should use dog feces in your compost pile. Some authors say "Of course you can" and others say "No, never!". As near as I can figure out, the concern is this: Although I have not heard specific parasites mentioned, dog feces may in fact carry parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens and viruses that are harmful to humans. These may be picked up, for instance, if a diseased bird flies into your yard and your dog catches it and eats it. I read one author who stated that the hot compost pile would kill these parasites. However, you would have to closely monitor the part of the pile that the feces were in to be sure it reached the maximum temperature. Because we put safety and health at the top of our priority list, we recommend that you do not put these in your pile.

Other options I have read include: Flush down the toilet. Bury in the ornamental section of your landscaping as long as it is not within 100 feet of a domestic water well, lake, or stream, and somewhere that it will not be disturbed for two years.

Other cautions: Handle as little as possible, preferably wear gloves. Children and pregnant women should not handle at all.

I am often asked why the same cautions are not applied to other animals such as rabbits, chickens, geese, cattle, etc. Animals that eat vegetative matter are not as likely to pick up and pass on diseases that are harmful to humans as are meat-eating animals. Either a dog or cat may chew on a dead bird or squirrel that died of a disease, has rabies, etc. Harmful bacteria and pathogens may be passed through to feces, which may or may not be destroyed by composting. Then children, pregnant women or other humans are exposed to the disease while out in the yard or garden.

 





E

egg shells

No effect on carbon/nitrogen ratio. Crumble and ompost in worm bin or pile. See Food Wastes.

evergreen leaves

High in Carbon. Although some texts say not to compost these, they are actually compostable materials. They might better be used as mulch, because they decompose slowly. You may also have a separate "slow-composting bin" for twigs and other slowly-decomposing materials into which these leaves may go.

To include in your regular compost pile, shred thoroughly and include with a high amount of nitrogen items.

 





F

fat

Do not compost.

feathers

Nitrogen. Compost in piles. Shred or put in "slow-composting bin". Most nitrogen materials are put into a compost pile to speed up decomposition. Feathers will not have that effect.

feces

Human feces should ONLY be composted in a Composting Toilet. Check with your veterinarian for information on your pets feces. We do not recommend composting dog, cat or bird feces in home compost piles. See Dog Feces and Cat Feces. However, a soil ingestor is perfect for these wastes.

fish

Do not compost. These items will eventually decompose. We do not recommend that you compost them in your backyard compost pile because they are likely to create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies. (In addition to being a general nuisance, rodents and flies may carry diseases.) Your area may have ordinances against composting these items for the same reasons.

We do not recommend you compost fish at home, but if you are determined to do so, you may want to read the Message Board Archives for discussions of people who have successfully composted fish.

flowers

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile. Purchased cut flowers have probably been heavily sprayed with chemicals to reduce bugs. Don't compost purchased cut flowers or at least wash them first.

Food Wastes

Nitrogen (12-15:1) Compost in worm bins or soil incorporation methods. We do not recommend that you compost them in your backyard compost pile because they are likely to create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies. (In addition to being a general nuisance, rodents and flies may carry diseases.) Your area may have ordinances against composting food items for the same reasons.

In some locations, it may be appropriate to compost vegetative Food Wastes in compost piles, check with your local solid waste department for guidelines. Vegetative Food Wastes are those derived from plants, i.e., vegetables and fruits. In these cases, build a hot compost pile to avoid pest problems. Bury the scraps one foot deep into the pile. Monitor the situation carefully to see if you are attracting pests. If so, stop composting food in your pile and use another method or try burying deeper into the pile. When you turn your pile, make sure any Food Wastes not sufficiently decomposed are once again moved to the inside of the pile.

Do NOT compost meat or dairy products, oils or mayonnaise. These products are organic, but they are not vegetative and are difficult to compost at home without creating problems.

 


G

grain chaff and hulls

Carbon (80:1). Compost in compost pile.

 

 

grapefruit

Nitrogen. Compost in soil ingestor. Also, may compost in worm bin, but don't overload the bin with citrus peels. See Food Wastes.

grass clippings

Nitrogen (when fresh). (12 - 19:1) is an average ratio. If the lawn was not well-watered or has turned brown, there will be far less nitrogen than that freshly cut from a green, healthy lawn.

Compost in backyard pile if artificial pesticides and fertilizers have not been used.

grease

Do not compost.

greeting card

Rather than throw out those old Christmas, Birthday, or other Occasion Cards, cut off the front of the cards and send them to the Born Again Card™ Recycling Program of the St. Jude's Ranch for Children. The address is St. Jude's Ranch for Children, 100 St. Jude's Street, Boulder City, NV USA 89005-1618 Phone 1-702-294-7100 Fax 1-702-294-7171

This is a wonderful recycling program which teaches formerly abused, abandoned and neglected children the discipline of working for spending money. The children make new cards, postcards, and Christmas ornaments with the card fronts you send. Profits from sales of these items are divided between the child who made the item, their savings account, and their cottage fund for special group outings.

Remember that purchasing recycled items closes the recycling loop. The program produces boxes of Christmas cards, birthday cards, all-occassion cards. They take special orders for occassions, angel cards, teddy bear cards -- make a request and see if they can meet it! They can accomodate you with special printing, fancy cards, gold trim. For information on purchasing these items, call 1-800-492-3562. Thank you for supporting two worthy causes -- children and recycling.

 





H

hair

Nitrogen. Compost in pile, but only as a small percentage of the pile. Dog and cat hair seem to compost faster than human hair. Put in very thin layers and cut up as much as possible first. Mix thoroghly with other materials so that it doesn't mat.
Warning: some composters report trouble composting hair, so try a small amount first to see how it works for you!

hay

Carbon. Compost in backyard pile. Because of seeds present, you may want to put this is a pile which will be used to amend the soil where hay will be replanted. Also OK in pile if spoiled. Some recommend hay as a mulch, but it can be a fire hazard if there is a source of ignition nearby.

holly leaves

Carbon. Compost in backyard "slow-compost bin". Shred first if possible. Also, makes a good mulch, shredding is a plus.

With regard to using holly leaves as mulch, consider the following advice from Deborah in Portland OR. She raises a very good point -- if you have kids playing on the lawn, you may take a different action than if you are trying to keep a pet out of your ornamentals!

I grew up on land that used to be an ornamental holly farm....have you ever stepped on an old holly leaf?? OUCH!! Because of those leaves, we kids NEVER went barefoot. From my personal experience, I'd suggest composting the leaves, not using them as mulch where you could come in contact with those pointy little edges!

An excellent point! (no pun intended)

houseplants

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile.

 





I

insect-ridden plants

Compost in soil ingestor. Do not compost in a pile. Unless the material is located in the hot center of an active pile, the insects may survive and be transferred back to your plants with finished compost.

ivy

Do not compost. Behaves like an invasive weed. See Weeds.

 





J

junk mail

You may include junk mail in your worm bin. To stop junk mail from being delivered to your mailbox you may write to: Junk Mail Stop!, Mail Preference - Direct Marketing Association, PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008

 





K

kitty litter

Do not compost in pile. See Cat Feces. If litter is biodegradable, see instructions for the Soil Ingestion method.

 


L

lard

Do not compost.

lake weed

Nitrogen. Provides a good source of trace elements.

laurel leaves

Carbon. Can make a good mulch, shredding is a plus. Compost in backyard "slow-compost bin". Shred first if possible.

lawn trimmings

See See Grass Clippings.

leaves

Carbon (40-80:1). Evergreen leaves are higher in carbon, so shred before composting.

Compost in worm bin or compost pile. Deciduous leaves are best for composting.

Leaves can also be used as a mulch. Shred first. Apply 3 inches deep. Wind and rain can "relocate" leaf mulch, so blend with other materials if possible.

legume shells

Nitrogen (30:1). Legumes include peas, soybeans, etc. Compost in compost pile.

lettuce

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

lime

Neither carbon nor nitrogen. May add to finished compost or soil if soil tests prove it is needed. It can kill composting organisms and may also produce ammonia gas. Some people automatically add lime when putting acidic materials into their compost piles, but a healthy compost pile should get to a balanced pH without it.

litter

Do not compost. See See Cat Feces.

 

 

 

 

 



M

magazines

Do not compost. Some people compost in worm bins and there is some evidence that the digestive processes of the worms break down harmful substances in the heavy inks, but the results are inconclusive. Worm composting may be advisable if you are not using the finished castings for vegetation for consumption.

Check with your local library. The library system in Plano, TX, USA has a system set up for citizens to donate their used books and magazines to the library. The library sells these books and magazines for various prices ranging from fifty cents to three dollars. The proceeds from these sales contributes to the cost of running the library. This is an excellent way to contribute to the community and recycle at the same time.

Check with your local school, church, day care, or children's camp. Many use magazine pictures for art projects and would appreciate your donation of child-appropriate magazines. Hospitals often accept them for use in their many waiting rooms.

Many communities recycle magazines and they just need to be placed in the appropriate recycle bins for trash pickup. If your municipal government does not recycle, look around in church and school parking lots. Private recycling companies sometimes place huge garbage bins marked for recycling in parking lots in communities do not recycle through trash pickup.

manure

Nitrogen (20-25:1) when rotted. Higher in nitrogen when fresh. Pig (5:1). Poultry (10:1). Horse (25:1). Cow (20:1) Other farm animals (14:1). Compost in pile. (Does not apply to cat, dog or bird feces.)

mayonnaise

Do not compost.

meat and meat bones

Do not compost. These items will eventually decompose. We do not recommend that you compost them in your backyard compost pile because they are likely to create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies. (In addition to being a general nuisance, rodents and flies may carry diseases.) Your area may have ordinances against composting these items for the same reasons.

I would like to add a word of explanation about composting vegetative food wastes (i.e., plant food wastes) versus meat and animal products. While reading the message board and the message board archives, you will find that many people compost VEGETATIVE wastes in backyard piles even though we do not recommend it. Composting vegetative wastes can be done at low risk in a pile IF IT IS DONE PROPERLY, but we have no way over the Internet to demonstrate for you the safe way to do this. If it is done improperly, you will attract pests which could carry diseases and produce very bad consequences. BE AWARE THAT COMPOSTING ANIMAL PRODUCTS AT HOME IS MUCH, MUCH, MUCH RISKIER THAN COMPOSTING VEGETATIVE MATTER. I don't know of anyone who does this with one exception, and and that one person does this work for a living and is highly trained. There is no way of which I am aware to compost meat products at home. I NEVER compost meat at home. Having meat in your compost piles will attract meat-eating animals, which are usually far more aggressive towards humans that vegetative animals. Please, please, please do not put animal products in your home pile.

milk

Do not compost. See Dairy Products

 





N

newspaper

Carbon (200-500:1). In some areas, soiled newspaper is not acceptable for municipal recycling. Contact your local solid waste department to find out.

Newspaper may be composted, but contains high amounts of carbon, so it may not be convenient to compost it in your backyard bin. Shred and soak in water before putting in backyard pile. Shredding is required because it mats easily. Be aware that there is not a lot of nutrient value in newspaper.

You can also soak in water, then shred and put into your worm bin as bedding.

Newspaper can be used under a layer of mulch which is several inches thick, or wood chip paths if there are no plants currently growing there which you want to keep. When preparing a new bed, this is a good way to get rid of a lot of weeds. The paper will keep out the light, so the weeds will not survive.

Concerns:
The information above contains recommendations usually given by Master Composters, experts and authors on composting. I have received a lot of questions about newspapers, so I am going to go into a little more detail here.

With regard to composting newspapers with black ink, I have only heard one mention of controversy. Otherwise, I have found that composting newspapers is acceptable. (As mentioned above, it is not usually recommended for use in a backyard pile because of the problems of matting, low nutrient value and slow decomposition.) The one controversial source was the book "Let It Rot" by Stu Campbell. He says that the carbon black ink contains polycyclicaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) which are a known carcinogen. Stu says

"Although the jury is still out, most scientific research to date indicates that PAHs are rendered inert by the temperatures of a hot compost pile, the biological activity, and the acids in the soil. Most newspaper inks no longer contain heavy metals, and most colored newsprint now uses vegetable dyes, so as long as you don't intensively compost with newspapers you can use it as a carbon source."

With regard to newspapers, A Green Guide to Yard Care published by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission says, "Most inks today are safe for garden use." To be completely safe, call your newspaper and ask about the ink or use compost made from newspapers on non-edibles like your lawn, ornamentals, flowers, and trees, rather than your vegetable garden.

Do NOT compost advertising inserts. Ad inserts are printed by someone other than the newspaper. Most companies still print inserts with heavy metal inks, especially the glossy ones. Some colored inks have heavy metals in them which, in large quantities, are toxic to microorganisms. Small quantities such as the occasional colored ad in the newspaper have negligible effects.

With society's emphasis on recycling, most newspapers have started using vegetable dyes for colored advertisements and the comics. (If your newspaper uses vegetable dyes, you can compost the comics, too.) Unfortunately, there is no way to be certain which dye they use by looking at the printed page. To make sure, call your local newspaper and ask them if they use vegetable dyes.

nut shells

Carbon. Compost in backyard compost pile. If you have a large quantity, nut shells may also be used for mulch. There is a vendor near Fort Worth that sells pecan shells as mulch and I believe it is the prettiest mulch I have ever seen.

 





O

oak leaves

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile.

Oak leaves are unusual in that most leaves are carbon, i.e., increase the carbon:nitrogen ratio of the pile. Oak leaves should be added as a nitrogen material.

oat straw

Carbon (74:1). Compost in compost pile.

oils of any kind

Do not compost.

 

 

onion peel

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. Don't use a large quantity. Just like humans, they can only take so much onion before they get tired of it. See Food Wastes.

orange peel

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin, but not in overwhelming quantities. Citrus peel are notorious for carrying fruit flies, so zap the peels in your microwave for 30 seconds to kill any eggs before you put the peels into your worm bin. See Food Wastes.

I have read that if you bury shredded orange peel in the top layer of soil, it will repel cats and dogs from digging.

 





P

paper

Carbon (170:1). Composts best in worm bins, but may also be used in compost piles if shredded thoroughly and mixed with other materials.

Do not use paper that has colored ink (which may contain toxic substances) or is glossy or coated.

Paper can also be used under a layer of mulch which is several inches thick, or wood chip paths if there are no plants currently growing there which you want to keep. When preparing a new bed, this is a good way to get rid of a lot of weeds. The paper will keep out the light, so the weeds will not survive.

Also, see Newspapers above.

pet feces

SeeSee Dog Feces and Cat Feces. A soil ingestor is useful for these wastes.

peanut butter

Do not compost.

pears

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

pet food

Do not compost in a pile as it may attract pests. Compost in ingestor or possibly worm bin.

 

 

 

 

 

pine needles

Carbon. Use to mulch acid-loving plants, e.g., rhododendrons, azaleas, camelias, blueberries. Apply 3 to 5 inches.

I received an email from a reader stating "Pine needles work as a straw replacement for strawberries. I apply them after the ground freezes in the fall and in the summer between the rows."

Can be composted in the pile as a carbon. Will take a while to compost. They are acidic, but as long as the majority of your pile is not pine needles or other acidic ingredients, the composting process should balance the pH.

pineapple

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin, but watch to make sure you don't add so much that you make your bin acidic. Pineapple juice is so acidic it literally removes fingerprints from the hands of people who work in pineapple factory (the condition isn't permanent). See Food Wastes.

poisonous plants

Do not compost. This includes plants such as poison ivy.

potatoes

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

prunings

Twigs will be Carbon. Deciduous leaves will be nitrogen. Compost in backyard "slow-compost bin". Chop first.

pumpkin

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

I composted a pumpkin in my soil ingestor. The meaty part composted well, but the stem is still there, almost in its original condition.

I also composted pumpkins in my compost pile. Yes, I know composting food in a pile is not recommended, but since I did it I wanted you to benefit from my experience. The pumpkins composted really well in the center of a highly carbon pile. I didn't remove the seeds because I wanted to see what would happen. What happened was a prolific crop of pumpkins sprouting out of my compost pile in all directions. If you know how to properly compost food in piles and want to compost pumpkins, remove the seeds first.

 





Q

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R

rhododendron leaves

Carbon. Can make a good mulch, shredding is a plus. Compost in backyard "slow-compost bin". Shred first if possible.

rose prunings

Nitrogen. Compost in backyard "slow-compost bin". Remove thorns for safety. Shred first if possible.

 





S

salad dressing

Contains oil. Do not compost.

sawdust

Carbon (400-500:1). Acceptable if wood was not painted or treated with chemicals or glues. Compost only in thin layers. Use a LOT of nitrogen materials.

seaweed

Nitrogen (19:1). Compost in compost pile or use as mulch. Provides trace elements and is said to have 60 minerals. The fresher, the better. The longer it is uprooted the more salt it absorbs in the ocean. Try to pick it up right after a storm. Small leafy varieties break down faster than bigger ones like Bull Kelp, but I know of no varieties that can't be effectively composted. Keep moist.

sewage sludge

Do not compost at home. While this matter will compost, studies have shown that the compost resulting from sewage sludge may have high concentrations of metals which are toxic to humans. In addition, it may contain salts which are toxic to plants.

Commercially-made compost created from sewage sludge should be accompanied by analysis and/or test results to ensure its safety. When using these, be sure to ask for recommended application rates.

socks

To make Sock Monkeys and Sock Elephants, see the instructions at http://www.freeyellow.com/members5/lennytaylor/.

 

 

sod

Large amounts of sod should be sent to the municipal recycling center. However, it is possible to compost sod anaerobically. Stack the sod in layers with dirt side up, grass side down. Cover with black plastic so that there is no air or light reaching the sod. It may take a year or more to completely decompose. (This method will also kill weeds such as buttercup and quack grass, but not Morning Glory.)

sour cream

Do not compost. See Dairy Products

squash

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

straw

Carbon (40 - 100:1, usually about 80:1). Compost in backyard compost pile.

string

Cotton string may be composted in a backyard pile if you have no other use for it. One reader writes "The string my pole beans climb on comes from the local horse barn, from the baled hay."

sugarcane wastes

Carbon (50:1). Compost in compost pile. Sugarcane fiber is 200:1 and may also be composted in the backyard pile. For more information, contact the Sugar Engineers' Library at http://www.sugartech.co.za

 





T

tea bags

Carbon (170:1). Compost with tea leaves in the worm bin. Can also go in piles.

tea leaves

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin or compost pile.

tomatoes

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

trees

Don't compost. Send to municipal composting site. Large municipal or commercial composting sites usually reach much higher temperatures than home piles, and the heat will kill the disease. Check with your solid waste department for guidance.

Particularly, don't include parts of a tree that is infested with tent caterpillars. Eggs exist which will not be destroyed by composting and these will hatch next spring.

turnip leaves

Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

 

twigs

Carbon. Compost in backyard "slow-compost bin". Chop first if you want to speed up the decomposition process.

 


 

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U

urine

Nitrogen (2:1). Mix one part urine with two parts water before adding to pile. (Can also be added directly to pile, but your chances for problems with odor are less if you dilute first with water.) Adds nitrogen and potash. Includes human urine.

 





V

vegetables

See Food Wastes

vegetable oil

See Oils

 





W

wallboard

In response to a reader's question on this, I spoke with Jim Doersam, the Composting Manager at Texas Organic Products who composts various wastes from construction sites. He said that manufacturers of mobile homes frequently use a type of wallboard that is vinyl on one side. That wallboard vinyl can NOT be composted. However, regular wallboard with paper on both sides definitely can be composted. In fact, he says it is made of calcium sulfate, i.e., gypsum, which is beneficial to your soil.

walnuts

Most varieties of walnuts can be composted. However, see the caution about Black Walnuts.

weeds

First of all, pull your weeds BEFORE they seed. Otherwise, you will have to prune from your weeds all seeds, rhizomes, and other reproducing parts. Most experts recommend that you do not put weeds which have gone to seed into your compost pile because the seeds will likely survive. When you spread your compost, you will be seeding your lawn and garden with seeds for the coming year. Rodale's book says that you can compost them if you carefully monitor the pile where they are to ensure that the temperature gets hot enough. Over 140 degree temperature is required to kill most weed seeds. It is safest not to compost them. Send them to the municipal recycling site.

Weeds spread in different ways. If you think about the way that a weed reproduces, it will assist you in your decision as to whether or not to put it in your pile. [A good primer on weeds appeared in Fine Gardening magazine's May/June 1996 issue (4 pgs.)] Also consider that if you are not building a hot compost pile, live weeds will probably continue to grow in your pile. Experts disagree as to whether the weeds' ability to reproduce is destroyed by the heat of the pile, but they all agree that hot piles are not uniformly hot. Unless the pile is monitored and turned in such a way that ALL weeds spend adequate time in the "hot spot" at the center, you can not be sure of the fate of your weed. If you have any doubts about a weed, don't include it. It is not worth seeding your garden with weeds as you spread your finished compost, then finding out you were wrong. Send weeds to the municipal recycling site.

Invasive weeds grow by sending roots or runners out below or just above the ground. Examples are Bermuda grass, bind weed, and white clover. Even shredding these types will not kill them. In fact, shredding them may just make them more plentiful, as they can reproduce from a small runner in adequate conditions. I have read one method of addressing these, but I have not tried it for myself so I cannot attest to its verity. If you spread weeds invasive weeds out on concrete or other pavement that becomes very hot, they will dry up. When thoroughly dried, they may be added to the compost pile.

Quack grass, Johnson grass, Sheep Sorrel and Canada thistle are examples of weeds that reproduce from small parts of rhizomes and should not be put into the compost pile. As these rhizomes break up, they simply have additional opportunities to create a new weed. Once again, I have heard of an anaerobic method of composting these weeds, but I have not yet tried it myself. The method is to close the weeds up in a black plastic sack, depriving them of oxygen and sunlight. Eventually, they should break down under the anaerobic composting process.

Other weeds and plants that have these characteristics include ivy, Morning Glory, Comfrey, Dallisgrass and crab grass. I have read one source that said the plastic sack method does not work on Morning Glory.

wood chips

Carbon (500:1). Compost only in thin layers. Use a lot of nitrogen materials.

woody wastes

Will compost over a year to two years. Chop before adding to pile, or use a separate bin just for long-term composting.

 





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Y

yard trimmings

Compost if no chemical pesticides or fertilizers have been used. Large limbs may be put into a separate long-term composting bin as they will take 1 - 2 years to decompose. Also includes old plants, wilted flowers, small prunings.

yogurt

Do not compost. See Dairy Products

yogurt cups

Yougurt cups make excellent cutworm guards when the bottom is cutoff.

 





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Commonly Asked Questions About Composting


It is a natural process for things that were once living to decompose. Composting is simply managing the natural breakdown or decomposition of organic materials to work faster. Individuals who have gotten serious about composting some of their yard and garden wastes realize that what appears to be a very simple process can generate a lot of questions. This fact sheet addresses some of the questions that have been raised by those who have tried backyard composting.

Can you add kitchen scraps to a compost pile?

Yes, almost any organic kitchen waste like food scraps and paper can be composted. However, meat, bones, and foods high in oils and fat can generate foul odors. They are also attractive to a wide range of insect and animal pests. Vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds are much better to compost.

Will weeds added to the compost pile increase weed problems later in the garden and flower beds?

Most weeds and many weed seeds will be killed by the heat generated in the compost process. Weeds that have not gone to seed can be added to the compost pile with some confidence that they will not be a problem. However, weeds that have large storage roots like nutsedge, florida bettony, or greenbriar should be left out or dried and chopped up before composting to reduce the chance of survival during composting. Frequent turning of the pile promotes more uniform and thorough decomposition and therefore decreases risk of survival of weeds.

Is it absolutely necessary to turn a compost pile?

No, but, by turning the pile, fresh organic matter, in essence food for microorganisms, is more uniformly distributed to those organisms. This promotes more rapid and uniform decomposition than simply letting the pile rot. A frequently turned and carefully managed compost pile can decompose in weeks while a neglected pile can take a year or more to produce a finished compost.

What can you do about fireants in the compost pile?

Pesticides are available to control fireants if they are present and pose a problem or hazard to you. However, fireants generally avoid places that are disturbed, so a compost pile that is turned often will not be an attractive place for fireants to build a home.

Are composted pecan leaves safe to use in the garden?

Although pecans are related to black walnut, which secretes a compound that is deadly to tomatoes and some other garden plants, no evidence supports a cause for concern about using composted pecan leaves in the garden. Any toxic substances in pecan leaves or any other kinds of leaves that could injure garden plants are thoroughly leached out or broken down during composting.

Can you use plant material that is diseased in a compost pile?

High temperatures that develop during composting kill many plant pathogens. Also, organisms that attack plant pathogens thrive in the compost pile and can reduce potential plant diseases. As long as the pile is turned so the whole pile has a similar chance to heat up and be exposed to those microbes that suppress diseases, the pathogens can be reduced to a level that should not be a problem in the garden. Thorough and well-managed composting is most important if diseased plants are added to the pile.

Can you compost yard waste that has a waxy coating and thorny waste, such as evergreen shrubbery clippings, and rose and holly waste?

Yes. However, plant material with a waxy coating may take longer to decompose. Shredding these materials will help break apart the waxy cuticles, exposing more surface area to the microorganisms for faster decomposition. The only problem with thorny waste is that it may be difficult to handle without gloves.

Do you have to have some kind of a structure to make compost?

No. Compost can be made in an open pile. A structure helps keep the pile neat and in a size and shape that will allow it to heat up in the middle and decompose faster. It will also hide the waste from the view of you or your neighbor. Where multiple bins are used, turning the compost from one bin to another is a convenient and effective way to manage the compost pile.

What size should a compost pile be?

A compost pile should be at least 3 to 4 feet high for it to adequately heat up in the middle. The width of the pile can be any size you can manage, but a general recommendation is 3 to 4 feet wide. One or two 3 x 3 foot compost bins are adequate for handling most, if not all, of the yard waste from a city lot.

Are odors a problem in a compost pile?

Although not usually a problem, under some conditions odors do occur. The most common problem that causes a compost pile to smell bad is lack of adequate aeration in the pile. This could be remedied by mixing in materials that are coarse and will help create air spaces in the pile. Also, smelly symptoms can be due to too much moisture and high nitrogen content in the pile. Add waste that is higher in carbon: the dryer, brown (woody) materials.

Is there any problem with composting newspaper?

No. True newsprint, the inexpensive paper made from wood pulp, is a good source of carbon if shredded and mixed with other materials. The inks used with newsprint, even colored newsprint, are considered non-toxic.

How can you tell when the compost is "finished"?

When the compost appears dark, crumbly, and looks much like soil, it is ready to use. Any large, woody pieces still not completely decomposed may be sifted out, if desired.

What are compost "activator or starter" materials?

Compost "activators" are dehydrated bacteria in a package. The numbers of bacteria existing on the organic material and soil used in a compost pile are more than enough to start the composting process. These bacteria also multiply very rapidly, so it is probably not necessary to use such a product.

Do you ever need to add fertilizer to a compost pile?

If you have a good mixture of green and brown waste materials (an average carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 30:1), you should not need to add fertilizer to the pile. However, if you have high carbon materials, a nitrogen source of fertilizer could be used to hasten decomposition.

Should limestone be added to compost piles?

There is no need to add lime to a compost pile. Too much lime, in fact, could create a loss of available nitrogen in the pile. Finished compost generally has neutral to slightly acid pH.

Is it all right to mix pet (dog or cat) or human wastes into the compost pile?

It is not recommended to add pet or human wastes to a compost pile. Studies have shown that there is a potential for health problems to occur where compost with pet waste has been used in vegetable gardens. Human waste has the potential for transmitting diseases as well and therefore should not be used. If you have to deal with pet waste, bury it away from garden areas.

Should a compost bin have a top on it?

Two reasons you might want to cover compost are to control the amount of moisture added to the pile and to keep out rodents and pets. However, these two factors are not always a problem. Unless we have an unusually wet season, a compost does not generally get too soggy. If you don't add scraps of meat, bones, or grease, pests aren't a serious problem.

Is it all right to mix fireplace ashes into the compost?

A limited amount of wood ashes can be used in the compost pile. Wood ashes can add potassium and other nutrients, but they also have the capacity to raise the pH very rapidly. Overuse could create problems with the compost pile.

For more information, contact your county Extension office. Look in your telephone directory under your county's name to find the number.


This list was found and contributed by Victoria Meetze.

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