Decomposer organisms work best with as varied a diet as you feed them. The ingredients are all around us –almost anything that once lived is a candidate for the compost, so try for lots of variety to get a good mix of textures and plant nutrients.
In composting jargon, woody materials that are high in carbon (autumn leaves, paper, peat moss, sawdust, cornstalks, hay and straw, etc) are called “brown” ingredients.
Materials like garden refuse, manure, tea and coffee grounds, feathers, hair, and food scraps are high in nitrogen, or “green”.
Some materials can actually be both: for example, fresh grass clippings are “green”; however, dried grass is “brown”.
For successful results, you can use the simple rule that compost needs to be about half “brown” and half “green” by weight. Don’t bother to weigh your ingredients, though — an estimate is fine.
Composting soon becomes a matter of instinct, like the cook who bakes without a recipe. If the pile doesn’t heat up, you know there’s not enough “green” in the mix, but if you get a smell of ammonia from your pile, you know that it needs more “brown”.
Materials Good for the Compost:
GREEN Foods: Algae, Bone meal, Coffee grounds, Egg shells, Feathers, Flowers, Fruit and fruit peels, Grass clippings (fresh), Hair, Manure, Seaweed, Tea leaves, Vegetables and peelings
BROWN Foods: Buckwheat hulls, Coffee filters, Corn cobs, Cotton/wool/silk scraps, Grass clippings (dried), Hay, Leaves (dead), Paper, Peat moss, Pine needles, Sawdust, Straw, Tea bags
This list is far from complete. Anything organic can, in theory, be composted — some more easily than others. But common sense suggests a few exceptions. Please take heed because if you put any of the following materials in your compost bin, you are asking for trouble. So here goes:
Materials to Avoid:
- Pet wastes can contain extremely harmful bacteria.
- Rotting meat, fish, fats and dairy products are likely to smell and may attract four footed visitors.
- Insect-infested or diseased plants may persist in the compost especially if the compost pile does not heat up very much.
- Materials contaminated by synthetic chemicals or treated with herbicides or insecticides should never be used.
- Weeds with mature seeds, and plants with a persistent root system (like crabgrass, ground ivy, or daylilies) may not be killed by the heat of the compost.
- Leaves of rhubarb and walnut contain substances toxic to insects or other plants so most people choose not to compost them.
So now you have it: A list of the materials which can be part of the composting pile and those materials which must be absolutely left out of the compost pile no matter what.
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