What is composting? How do you know which things can be composted? What are the benefits of composting in your backyard for your garden? These are all questions that I get asked by eager souls every now and then. Whether it’s just a small section of land or an entire acreage, there is always room to add another pile of compost to your yard, and once it’s done, you’ll have a great place where everything decomposes into nutrient-rich soil. It doesn’t matter how much space you have – even if it’s just on the side porch or at the bottom of some stairs – as long as there is enough sun exposure, moisture from rain (or irrigation) and air circulation. With these three ingredients together, you’ll have a great little compost pile producing the best soil for your garden! So let’s get started
What Is Backyard Composting?
Composting is much more than free garden fertiliser. It reduces the burden on landfills by removing 20-50% of your household waste stream. When organic matter, such as food, is discarded, it decomposes anaerobically without oxygen. This process produces methane, which is 20-35 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the United States. Without Composter’s garden, which uses the cycle of decay and rebirth, there would be no life on Earth. A helpful guide for those who want to make the most of their garden space and minimize waste while doing it. Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced gardener, this post has tips for everyone.
Backyard composting is the process of breaking down organic material into a rich, fertilizer-rich soil called “compost”. Compost can be used to amend soil or as a soil substitute. This process is nature’s way of recycling and can save you money on your family budget.
Composting also helps plants grow healthier and more vigorous, saving you time, energy and money. As a gardener, composting saves money on buying commercial fertilizers and reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills.
Before we jump to the list of things you can compost, let’s get a few key questions out of the way!
Why is composting important?
Composting prevents organic material from going to a landfill. Beneficial organisms can break down organic materials like food scraps, grass clippings and even plastic in the soil (or compost pile). These organisms are fed through the assistance of microorganisms that live in the soil. They help break down organic materials into a useable form for plants.
What should you mix in your compost?
There is no “one” right thing to add to your compost pile. Useful items include: -Grass clippings -Weeds with roots intact -Leaves -Vegetable peels -Fruit and vegetable scraps -Cardboard -Paper products-Straw -Pine needles -Shredded paper.
What not to add to your compost?
Items that shouldn’t be added are: -Meat, fish, bones or dairy products -Soil from outside of your garden (it may contain pests) -Diseased plants.
When should you turn the pile?
It is best to turn the pile every two weeks. Don’t let it sit for too long, as this will cause a build-up of material that won’t break down easily. Adding new scraps and turning the pile helps things along more quickly, which means it will take less time for everything to decompose. You’ll also be able to use those yummy nutrient-rich soil sooner!
How do you get started composting?
Find a spot to put your compost pile. It should be level and close to the house for easy access. If you live in an apartment, this might not be possible; however, there are still alternatives…See number 3 below! 2. Gather all of your supplies- wood chips, shredded paper, grass clippings, yard waste etc. (you’ll find lots of ideas above.) 3. Start on a small scale. You can try getting a few friends together and setting up one big bin or many little ones around the neighbourhood with each person contributing on their own property 4. Get your hands dirty! Try turning the pile every other week
The big question…why is my compost pile stinky? The key to good compost is air, water and temperature. This allows the decomposition process to happen faster. One way you can correct this problem is by turning your pile more often and adding less material at one time. You should also make sure that you schedule regular visits to your compost pile throughout the year!
What will it look like when it’s all done?
When the composting process has finally completed itself, there will be no trace of what was once in the bin except for a rich, dark soil-like substance that holds wonderful nutrients for plants to use as they grow. People who don’t have yards or gardens can use their compost as mulch! See below for further ideas on using your “black gold”.
What can I grow in my compost?
You can plant almost any type of fruit or vegetable in your batch of homemade compost. You may have to try a few different soil mixtures before finding one that works best for the type of fruits and vegetables you want to grow. Most plants will do fine with a mixture that is fifty per cent “browns” (which include stuff like grass clippings, leaves and paper products) and fifty per cent”greens” (which are things like vegetable scraps and plant clippings)
The many uses of compost “Black Gold.”
Compost can be used for much more than just growing plants. Here are just a few ways that it can be used:
- Raised beds- Mixing your compost into the soil before you begin building will help ensure that your garden is filled with nutrient-rich soil.
- Mulch- If you plan on planting flowers or vegetables in your flower bed, using a mulch made from the compost will help keep weeds down as well as add nutrients to the soil, so when spring comes around, all you’ll have to do is fill it up, and you’re ready to plant!
How do I know what ratio of browns to greens to use?
It’s easiest if you use an all-purpose ratio right from the start. For every hundred pounds of material you use, you’ll want to have thirty-five pounds of browns and sixty-five pounds of greens. If this ratio doesn’t work for your garden, adjust it using more or less brown material. See the above image for an example of a good mulch mixture to use in your garden.
Will I be able to feed my family with the fruits and vegetables we grow in our own compost?
You can! It’s best to plant crops used as staple foods during tough times, such as winter when food prices increase. Some great additions include leafy greens like spinach, kale and lettuce; broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts; potatoes; carrots; tomatoes; beans; squash and peas (to name a few)
The Ultimate List of Things You Can Compost
Kitchen, In-home & Around Your Backyard: What’s compostable in your home and within your backyard? Composting kitchen scraps is one of the easiest ways to start composting. The following materials can all be added to your home and backyard compost bin (if you have a large enough container!)
- Cornstarch: When you empty the cornstarch container in your kitchen, put a small amount of it into an airtight bag and store it for later use.
- Eggshells: When you crack eggs, add the shells to your bin. The eggshells are a great source of calcium for plants!
- Grass clippings: Do you have a lawn? Grass clippings are a great addition to your compost. Make sure that you don’t add too much at one time.
- Paper egg cartons, paper tubes, paper plates and paper napkins: Add these to your bin for easy-to-compost paper. You can also avoid using paper whenever possible by getting a reusable container, such as a tumbler or mug with your favourite coffee drink from the local shop.
- Food scraps: Food scraps are great additions to compost because they provide the microorganisms in your pile with additional nutrients
- Dairy products: Throw cheese rinds and milk cartons in a plastic bag until you’re ready to empty it. Dairy products are a good source of nitrogen and will add important nutrients to your compost.
- Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds don’t take up a lot of space, but they are beneficial. Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and can be added to your compost pile.
- Cotton balls and cotton swabs: These are great additions to the compost bin. When you’re ready to throw them away, put a few in an airtight bag so that they’ll be easy to transport.
- Pet hair and fur: You might not think it would be beneficial, but pet hair is a good source of carbon for your compost pile
- Dryer lint: When you empty your dryer’s lint trap, put a small amount of it in an airtight bag for later use
- Cooking oils and grease: Throw these scraps into a metal canister and store them. When it’s time to throw the oil away, mix two parts of water with one part oil, pour this water into one part of the used cooking oil, this will help keep nasty odours from the canister.
- Shredded paper: Shredded paper takes a lot of space to store and throw away, so you should shred it yourself with your crosscut shredder or put it in an airtight bag and get rid of it later
- Clothing: Throw plastic and fabric clothing items in an airtight bag until you’re ready to throw them away
- Recycling bins: Anything that doesn’t belong in the recycling bin but is recyclable should be thrown into a plastic bag until you have time to remove it.
- Bottle caps, lids and rings: These can be saved and placed in an airtight bag until you’re ready to throw them away. Do not add bottle caps to your compost bin, as they can be dangerous for the microorganisms in your pile.
- Plastic grocery bags: These are always easy to find a spot for. Just make sure that you don’t overdo it and toss in too many at once
- Pet food: Pet food is a great source of nitrogen. Please put it in a vacuum bag and store it until you’re ready to dispose of it.
- Coffee filters: Don’t throw away your used coffee filters! When they get dirty, throw them in the bin.
- Plant cuttings: You can put these directly into your compost bin if they are small enough.
- Paper napkins: Paper napkins don’t take up a lot of space but can provide nutrients when they break down.
- Fertilizer: If you have some fertilizer, such as leftover liquid seaweed or compost tea, pour it into your they breakdown.
- Soap: Used bars of soap are great for compost. I like to dry mine out and then crush it before adding it to my compost bin.
- Dryer sheets: Don’t toss away your used dryer sheets! Keep one or two in a plastic bag.
- Oatmeal bags:
- Scrap cardboard
- Lids: You can put these in a plastic bag and use them at another time. They should always be recycled, but they can’t be put in the garbage since they are made of plastic.
- Bread bags: Bread bags are made of a thin plastic that can’t be recycled, but it’s good to use them in your compost pile
- Cookies and crack
- Deodorant: If it’s empty, you can add it to the compost bin. If it has product in it, you can add only the cap to the compost pile.
- Shampoo bottles: Shampoo bottles are a great addition to your compost bin if they’re empty. You can also use plastic containers with lids for smaller items like cotton balls and swabs.
- Cotton pads: These should be added to the compost bin. They’re great for making compost tea.
- Beer and wine bottles: These can be saved and added to your compost bin when it’s time to get rid of them
- Vacuum cleaner bags: If they are clean, you can save them, but make sure you remember where you leave them because they could attract insects. In addition, don’t overdo it. While they’re great for aerating your compost bin, too many of them can make your pile very heavy and not able to break down properly.
- Fruit: You can add some fruit peels directly into a bowl if you want to use them as fertilizer in the future. Just make sure that you don’t add too much fruit at once since it will make your compost bin smell like fermenting cider.
- Juice boxes: Juice boxes have a lot of nutrients in the cardboard container
- Teabags (remove strings): Tea bags are a great addition to your compost bin. Remove the strings before adding them
- Corn cobs and husks: If you have used corn cob holders, it’s easy to separate the plastic from the corn cob when you’re ready to add it to the compost pile
- Eggshells: Eggshells can be crushed and added directly into the compost bin.
- Bread bones: Bread bones are great for making compost tea or adding to your pile, but make sure that they’re clean before you add them
- Apple cores and peels: Apple cores and peels can be added directly to the compost bin since they break down quickly. Do not add branches from your apple tree, as they will take a lot longer to break down and may attract rodents.
- Coffee grounds: Coffee grounds can be added directly to the compost bin
- Meat scraps: Meat scraps, such as bones, meat fat, and cooked meat, can be added directly to a compost bin if they are already broken down. Do not add raw meats or bones as they will attract rodents
- Paper towels: Paper towels aren’t great at absorbing liquids, but they’re perfect for adding extra carbon to your pile
- Cereal boxes: Cereal boxes have a lot of cardboard that’s perfect for adding to your compost pile
- Paper plates: Paper plates and cups are a great way to add nutrients to your compost bin. They’re not the best at absorbing liquids though
- Paper egg cartons: If you use a lot of eggs, egg cartons can actually be an excellent source of carbon for your compost bin.
- Pencil shavings: Pencil shavings are a great way to add carbon to your compost bin, but make sure that they’re not wood pencils as they will attract termites
- Cork: Cork can be added directly into your compost pile. It’s a great way to improve drainage in the centre of your pile.
- Newspaper: Newspapers will break down quickly in your compost bin, but they do have a lot of ink, so you should keep them to a minimum.
- Sugared coffee cups used for iced tea: These cups will break down quickly in your compost pile
- Coffee filters: You can turn used coffee filters into great compost with a few shakes of your sprinkler. They are very absorbent and don’t take up too much space, making them perfect for the middle of your pile.
- Paper napkins (remove creases): Napkins are another great item for your compost pile, but make sure you only add creased napkins and don’t put too many in at once
- Paper towels (remove liquids): Paper towels aren’t great for absorbing liquids, but they’re perfect for adding extra carbon to your pile
- Chocolate bar wrappers: These wrappers are biodegradable and can be added to the compost pile
- Coke cans (remove pop-tops): Coke cans are a great way to add extra carbon to your compost bins. Make sure you remove the pop-top before adding them.
- Plastic forks: Plastic forks and spoons will break down in your compost bin, but not as fast as other utensils
- Plastic cups and containers: Plastic items are a great way to add extra nutrients, but they need to be broken down first before you can add them to your compost bin
- Plastic potato chip bags: The plastic in these items will break down faster than some other types of plastic but make sure they aren’t too greasy, or the grease may attract pests and wildlife
- Plastic straws: Plastic straws are another item that will need to be broken down before you can add them to your compost bin
- Plastic water bottles: Water bottles are a great way to add extra nutrients, but they must be broken down first. Make sure the tops of the bottles have been removed!
- Orange peels (remove seeds): Orange peels make an excellent addition to any compost pile, but you should remove the seeds before adding them
- Cotton balls or swabs:
- Cooked rice
- Bubble wrap: Bubble wrap is a great way to increase the carbon content of your compost pile, but it will take a long time to break down. Make sure you remove as many air bubbles from the wrap before adding it.
- Styrofoam cups and containers (remove tops):
- Paper towel rolls, crepe paper streamers, toilet paper rolls and cotton towels too
- Wine corks
- Cat food:
- Pizza Boxes
- Natural Holiday Wreaths and any floral arrangements
- Untreated wood, hay bales, outdoor fall decor and even toenail clippings
- Stale candy, chicken manure and even goat manure mixed with pet hair and weed seeds are game!
- Popcorn kernels, herbs and spices, walnut shells and leftover fish food can also be added in good measure.
- Moldy cheese and stale cereal
- Burlap sacks
- Weeds, seedless raspberries, dryer lint
- Pepper cores, squash seeds
- Hoof and horn meal
- Dead houseplants, garden soil (depending on soil structure, of course), nutshells and even stale crackers
- Non glossy junk Mail
- Alcohol: Beer, wine, and liquor bottles can all be added to your compost bin
- Sawdust and dust bunnies
Can Compost Kill You?
Not directly. However, there are some dangers to be aware of:
Beetles and other insects can breed in poorly handled or stored compost, and these may cause problems for your family’s health. The three most dangerous are the dung beetle (which carries nematodes that can harm humans), the black soldier fly (an insect with larvae that can make people sick), and the yellow-striped soldier fly (which carries bacteria that can cause “compost poisoning”).
It’s important to keep your compost bin out of reach from pets, children and wildlife. Pets who eat cat litter made with food scraps could become ill or die.
Children should not be allowed to play in your compost pile. They can get sick from food scraps that have been left behind in the process of making your compost. Also, if the soil is not turned regularly and evenly, it can lead to pockets where bacterial diseases can develop.
When deciding what material to add to your bin, always be sure you know exactly what you are adding and its risks
How To Find The Right Balance?
An effective compost pile is a careful balance of dry carbon-containing materials and wet nitrogen-containing materials.
If the compost pile becomes too dry and dry, it will decompose quickly, so the materials need to be turned more often. This can cause the compost pile to heat up so much that it could kill off the beneficial bacteria and fungi. I keep a small stockpile of horse manure and dry grass clippings on hand as fodder to keep my pile balanced and decomposing quickly.
When adding to the compost pile, I also like to balance and mix in a lot of shredded leaves and cardboard, so it doesn’t get too dry or dry in the dry environment.
Composting at a Faster Pace
You can get your compost to decompose quickly and evenly so that you can use it in your garden. Here are some useful tips on how to speed up the process a little faster and get the best results possible.
Step 1: Start with a balanced mix of dry carbon-containing materials like leaves, shredded paper, wood chips or even cardboard.
Step 2: Add nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings, green weeds, kitchen scraps and diluted urine (especially those of rabbits) in small amounts.
Step 3: Keep Your Compost Pile Moist: One of the biggest challenges when making compost is keeping it moist enough that it doesn’t heat up too much but not so wet that air can’t circulate into it, which could lead to anaerobic conditions and poor decomposition. With very few exceptions, you should never add salt to your compost pile. It will not help the decomposition process and may even be detrimental. You can use a wet/dry thermometer to measure if your compost is heating up too much or not enough. The best way to keep it moist is by keeping it turned (this allows more air into the mix) and by watering it with a hose on hot days to hold water for longer periods of time than a sprinkler could. Also, make sure you have an adequate drainage system in place underneath the pile so that any excess water doesn’t pool on top of the surface.
Creating Fertile Soil Through Composting
The result of composting is rich, dark, dense earthy-smelling soil that’s great for growing flowers, plants and vegetables. It also has a tremendous amount of nutrients in it that promote the healthy growth of your garden plants. If you plan to use your compost on fruit and vegetable plants, be sure to get rid of any plastic packaging or bubble wrap that may be found in inserts inside the bags of gardening seeds you purchase. Plastics don’t degrade easily, so they’ll hang around in your compost pile as litter.
If you have quite a bit of leaf or grass clippings lying around, some things can help you turn them into fertilizer much faster than normal. Try sprinkling some alfalfa meal over it and mixing it in with your yard waste before placing it into the bin; this natural material works by speeding up decomposition without changing the ratio of organic matter (you can add about 2 lbs per cubic foot). Also, if you like using compost tea to feed your plants and vegetables, try adding coffee grounds into it; they’re a great source of nitrogen. Don’t use milk or dairy products in your compost pile as they will attract unwanted pests (like rats) and have a tendency to get slimy.
You can also sprinkle partially used coffee grounds over the materials once mixed that are already going through decomposition. Adding more carbon materials such as peat moss or dried leaves to a finished compost pile will help stabilize it so that it doesn’t smell too bad when you dig it up for your garden.
Foods To Avoid Adding To Your Compost Pile
Foods with toxic chemicals or pesticides on them should not be added to your compost pile. Be very careful about adding paper that contains these chemicals to your compost pile; newspapers and cardboard boxes are typically coated with a thin layer of wax, which is toxic once it breaks down into smaller pieces. Avoid using them in any way when you are creating compost for your garden plants.
These products will be broken down over time, but they could take years for it to happen, especially if they are going through wet/dry cycles on their way out and the moist conditions present within the mix. That’s why it may be better to avoid those types of foods altogether and try something else if you have concerns about what kind of materials could be lingering around in your compost pile
Bin or Pile?
Compost bins keep the compost contained and easier to turn over than an open pile (though you should still flip over an open pile now and then). Also, if your bin is built properly, it can minimize leaks from excess water getting into the pile, which could otherwise lead to microbial issues like mould or odour. Most people start to go with simple homemade bins like wire framed boxes made from wood, metal pallets or even plastic drums. You can place these wherever you want as long as they have drainage so that air can enter underneath them for better decomposition
Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you produce in your home. It’s easy to do and you can use it for your garden, making compost tea or just plain old planting soil. We hope this article has provided you with an overview of composting and a list of everyday items that can be thrown into your compost, making you closer to sustainable nature, so we can keep our earth green and healthy.
If you feel we have left out details that you would like to see or even simply want to share other ideas for composting and living close to nature, please drop us a note.