The What, Why, and How of Composting

Ah, composting. There are so many amazing benefits to composting: it provides extra nutrients for your soil, which gives your homegrown fruit and veg more nutrients too; it improves your soil structure and cleans up contaminated soil; it increases the moisture the soil retains so you have to water less (saving on water); and it keeps extra garbage out of the dump reducing methane emissions. Honestly, each one of these benefits could stand alone and have an entire article written about them! (These are the kinds of perks that get me so excited to compost!)

As exciting as composting is, there are definite rules about what can go into the compost pile. The most basic rule of composting is if it came from the ground, it can go back to the ground. For efficient composting, cut all scraps into smaller pieces and follow this ratio: 4 parts brown materials to 1 part green material. Give it a toss weekly. (To make it even easier to mix, and to keep the compost area tidy, check out this tumbler.)


Here is the list of what you can and cannot compost:

COMPOST: Throw it in the pile!

Green Material: These materials are rich in nitrogen, break down quickly, have lots of moisture, and give heat to your pile.

  1. Fruits and vegetables. Including rinds and stalks
  2. Coffee grounds
  3. Tea leaves and paper tea bags
  4. Old vegetables that aren’t suitable for eating anymore
  5. Houseplant trimmings
  6. Weeds that haven’t gone to seed
  7. Grass clippings
  8. Fresh leaves and thinnings from your veg garden
  9. Deadheads from flowers
  10. Dead plants (as long as they aren’t diseased)
  11. Seaweed
  12. Cooked plain rice or pasta
  13. Stale bread
  14. Corn husks and cobs
  15. Sod that you’ve removed to make new garden beds
  16. Old dried herbs and spices that have lost their flavor
  17. Eggshells
  18. Hair and fur

Brown Material: Items in the “brown material” category have lots of carbon, and add structure and aeration to the pile.

  1. Shredded newspaper and non-glossy mail
  2. Shredded office or school papers
  3. Torn up plain corrugated cardboard boxes (not with glossy coatings)
  4. Straw
  5. Bedding from hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, and chickens
  6. Fall leaves and pine cones
  7. Chopped up twigs and small branches
  8. Nutshells (avoid walnut shells)
  9. Used napkins
  10. Toilet paper, paper towel, or wrapping paper tubes
  11. Pine needles or straw
  12. Used paper coffee filters
  13. Pressed paper egg cartons, torn into small pieces
  14. Sawdust (from untreated wood)
  15. Brown paper shopping bags and lunch bags, shredded
  16. Leftover peat or coir from seed starting
  17. Wood chips and sawdust

If your bin is wet and smells, add more browns and give it a mix. If things aren’t breaking down like they should, add more greens and give it a turn.

DO NOT COMPOST: Throw it in the garbage!

  • Meat, fish, egg or poultry scraps (odor problems and pests)
  • Dairy products (odor problems and pests)
  • Fats, grease, lard or oils (odor problems and pests)
  • Coal or charcoal ash (contains substances harmful to plants)
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants (diseases or insects might spread)
  • Pet wastes (dog or cat feces, cat litter) (might contain parasites or germs)
  • Yard trimmings treated with pesticides (might kill composting organisms)
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs (substances harmful to plants)


Composting in an Apartment

Are you like me and live in an apartment, so having a tumbler is out of the question? You can still make an impact and help your few balcony plants to thrive! Keep a food scrap bin in your kitchen (check out this one–it looks nice and does a good job of keeping odors from scraps you toss in out of your kitchen). Then use your blender to chop up your kitchen scraps with a liberal amount of water to create a nutritious, drinkable soup consistency for your hungry soil. Blending it to this consistency makes the nutrients ready to be absorbed by the plants you’re pouring it onto. (If you don’t have a blender, check out this one: it’s the one I use, and it works great for this!)



Worms are an integral part of natural composting, too. If you’re interested in an even more well-rounded natural circle of life, check out this information on vermicomposting. (If you’re looking for a good vermicomposting bin, check this one out.)


Composting is just an all-around good practice to be in the habit of. It’s a simple thing that can make a difference in the world, in your garden, and for your food. Why wouldn’t you want to decrease emissions and increase your vegetable’s nutrition, and, in turn, yours? Seems like a no-brainer!

If you want to compost for the environment but don’t have the space, contact a local farm, farmers market or community garden and ask if they’ll accept! You can make a drop off every so often with your organic matter and pick up some fresh, local goods for your trouble! I love a win-win-win. You can also take a look at these links to look for local composting places and pick up.


SHARE WASTE: (Here you can either register as having compost to donate, or being a place where others in your neighborhood can bring their compost!)


Also, check with your neighborhood trash pick up! The company may offer curb-side pick up.





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