Compost Ingredients






A
alfalfa hay
Nitrogen (13:1). Compost in compost pile.

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algae
Nitrogen. Provides a good source of trace elements.

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animal products
Recommended that you do not compost. See Food Wastes.

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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.

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aquatic weeds
Nitrogen. Compost in compost bin.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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bat guano
Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile.

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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.

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birthday card
See Greeting Card

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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.)

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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.

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bones
See Meat and Meat Bones

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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.

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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.

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butter
See Dairy Products

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C
cabbage
Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

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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.

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carrots
Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

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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.

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celery
Nitrogen. Compost in worm bin. See Food Wastes.

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cheese
See Dairy Products

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chicken
See Meat and Meat Bones

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clover
Nitrogen. Compost in backyard compost pile.

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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"

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.

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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F
fat
Do not compost.

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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.

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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 may be used for these wastes.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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