Composting is easy! There are just a few rules to follow in order to ensure material breaks down properly and it happens in such a way that doesn’t hurt your sense of smell.
Whether you are composting in a bin or have started a pile right in your yard (both are perfectly acceptable methods), there are two categories of ingredients that will make-up your compost: nitrogen-based and carbon-based or as some people refer to them, “greens” and “browns”. When combined, these two ingredients create an environment that allows microbes to break down organic matter into rich, healthy soil.
These ingredients typically come from your kitchen or house plants and are just plant-matter. They tend to have a lot of moisture (sometimes they are called wet ingredients) and they are rich in nitrogen (a chemical compound found in all living things…you remember the symbol N from 10th grade chemistry, right?). The term “greens” can be a bit misleading because there are plenty of valuable additions to your compost that aren’t green such as coffee grounds. Here’s a quick list of “green” ingredients for your compost:
- Fruit and vegetable scraps (or produce that’s beyond salvation)
- Coffee grounds
- House plant trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Cooked plain rice and pasta
- Corn husks and cobs
- Eggshells (*note – egg shells take a while to breakdown and can smell so we recommend rinsing them out first)
The right amount of browns will keep smell and pests at bay and will aerate your pile. Just like with greens, browns do not have to necessarily be the color brown, any carbon-rich material will work including the following:
- Shredded paper including newspaper
- Shredded junk mail (non-glossy…this is particularly satisfying way to use evil annoying junk mail for good)
- Plain corrugated cardboard boxes (torn up into small pieces)
- Bedding for hamsters, rabbits
- Fall leaves and pine needles
- Toilet or paper towel tubes
- Pressed paper egg cartons (torn into small pieces)
- Brown paper shopping bags (shredded or torn)
What should I avoid?
- Dairy and meat – While they are organic materials, they are likely to attract pests and will take longer to decompose
- Glossy paper – Paper that’s treated to make it glossy typically contains toxins and won’t decompose properly
- Sticky labels – Plastic labels aren’t biodegradable
- Synthetic fertilizer – Besides the fact that it’s shitty for the environment, these chemicals will kill important micro organisms in your pile that will ultimately affect the health of plants grown using your compost
How much of each?
This is a hot topic. Give it a quick google and you’ll find all kinds of conflicting information on how much of each ingredient is needed to compost properly. Don’t worry, composting isn’t like baking and the amount of each ingredients doesn’t need to be exact.
A good baseline ratio to start with is 2:1, browns:greens. You can always adjust as needed. Another way to figure out what ingredient you need more of is to look at the moisture of the pile. If it’s watery add browns. If it’s super dry and not breaking down, add greens.
Full disclosure, I composted for 6 months with zero knowledge and just added a decent amount of browns (usually shredded office paper and mail) when I had added a weeks worth of greens and it worked just fine! If you’ve read this far, it means you’re interested in composting and I’m seriously pumped for you. Composting is so rewarding… Creating less trash and more of a valuable resource feels so good. It’s an easy win/win for you and for the planet.
Thanks to Sweet Sustainable [Instagram]