Making compost is recycling its best. With minimal effort and virtually no expense, you can magically transform grass clippings, vegetable and fruit peelings, and garden waste into dark, crumbly, rich compost, or even compost paper bags.

Composting: The Ultimate Recycling Magic

Along with improving soil texture and providing nutrients to plants, compost conserves water, and controls soil erosion. It also results in less waste going to landfill sites. According to Susan Antler, executive director of the Compost Council of Canada, if everyone-industry, restaurants, and private citizens across the country composted, we could reduce the amount of garbage destined for our landfills by half.

Highly versatile, compost can be dug into the garden, or used as a top dressing or a mulch; it also adds valuable nutrients when transplanting.

What does it take to make compost?

There is no mystery to making good compost. A compost pile mimics the process nature uses to break down organic matter by combining nitrogen (found in kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, green grass clippings, fresh plant trimmings and weeds, and manure) and carbon (such as dry, brown plant material like dead leaves, grass or plants, wood products, and paper) with air and water.

Heap all the ingredients together in an open pile, add water and turn it regularly with a shovel. Enclosed bins, which promote faster decomposition and dis­courage rodents, are best, particularly in urban areas (many municipalities or com­post education centers sell containers at reduced rates). You can also make your com­poster out of scrap wood. To discourage mice, rats and other rodents but maintain air circulation, line it with wire mesh (ensure the openings are no greater than one inch).

Put your compost pile in an easily accessible area near a water source, but away from sheds, dense shrubs, or bird feeders. Ensure the ground is level and provides good drainage. A partly sunny exposure is helpful but not essential.

Turn the pile weekly and water as needed. The mixture should feel like a wrung-out sponge to the touch. If you can squeeze water from a handful of material, it’s too wet.

Finished compost should be dark brown, loose and crumbly (not powdery), with no weeds, and it should have a sweet, earthy smell. It’s generally ready to use between four months and two years from when it was started. Why such a wide gap in time? Because compost piles are forgiving. Even when you neglect it, don’t get the ratios quite right, or make your pile a little too big or small, the materials always eventually break down-like magic.

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Composting: Going Green

Some Canadian and U.S. cities have implemented green bin programs that allow residents who have a curbside collection to put out organics (fruit and vegetable scraps, paper towels, coffee grinds, for example) for separate collection and garbage and recycling. The material is diverted from landfills and is instead turned into reusable compost. Halifax and Edmonton have green bin-type programs, as has Toronto and some of its suburbs. “In the same way the blue box program has swept the nation, I see the green box program as the way of the future,” says Geoff Rathbone, director of policy and planning, waste management services, City of Toronto. “Certainly, in the next few years, I expect the entire Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario to be on board.” And he believes the program will spread as cities look for ways to cope with overflowing landfills.

DOS and DON’TS of Composting

  • Do cover food waste with dry leaves or soil discourage flies.
  • Do chop compost materials into little pieces, which break down faster.
  • Do cover compost piles during prolonged periods of heavy rain and in winter.
  • Do not add meat, bones, grease, pet waste, diseased plant materials, or lawn clippings that have been sprayed with chemicals.
  • Do not compost rhubarb leaves because they contain chemicals. These chemicals may be toxic to organisms in the soil if the leaves haven’t fully decomposed before using the compost.
  • Do not add weeds or invasive plants with persistent root systems or seeds (weeds in flower are fine).

How to start composting?

Start your compost pile by laying down about six inches (15 centimeters) of rough plant material, such as stalks or twigs, to encourage airflow into the pile. Add a nitrogen layer of kitchen scraps and fresh plant trimmings, followed by a carbon layer of dry, brown plant material. Layers should be between two and six inches deep (five and 15 centimeters). One layer each of nitrogens and carbons is adequate to start; follow with one inch to a two-inch layer (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of garden soil or finished compost. Repeat with alternating nitrogen and carbon layers as kitchen waste and trimmings become available but always end with a carbon layer on top to discourage flies and rodents. Aim for a pile that’s between one cubic meter and 3.5 cubic meters in size.

How to layer compost?

Size Matters Should a compost layer be five or 15 centimeters deep? It depends on the season, region, and size of particles and materials in each layer. The goal is to promote the quick breakdown of ingredients. So it follows that thinner layers are more efficient in cold regions and weather; and are also appropriate when the components are chunky. Nitrogen-rich layers (especially those with fresh grass clippings) heat up quickly, so they can be thicker than carbon layers, which take longer to decompose.

Composting Problems and Solutions

Compost piles sometimes need a kick-start in spring to get them working efficiently again. And, depending on the weather, they might need adjusting during the growing season, too.

Problem – Compost Too Dry

Solution – Mix in a little bit of soil and some coffee grounds or moist kitchen scraps; water pile, cover, and let sit. Check once a week; if it’s still too dry, repeat

Problem – Compost Too Wet

Solution – Turn pile and add dry materials such as dry leaves (not fresh), straw, lint from the dryer, even sawdust. Keep it uncovered (except in periods of prolonged heavy rain) and check once a week. Use the touch test: a handful of material should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Problem – Compost had foul odor (not enough air circulation or pile too wet)

Solution – Turn pile; add dry, coarse, material such as straw and shredded leaves

Problem – Compost is Too Cold or Too Weedy

Solution – To heat things up (which effectively kills weed seeds), add some high-nitrogen materials such as manure, kitchen scraps, or fresh grass clippings.

Problem – Failure to Decompose

Solution – If there are layers of grass clippings or fresh leaves, break them up by mixing in straw, hay (but no hayseeds), or dry leaves. If large chunks are not decomposing, use a soil shredder or sift pile through a screen. Use the resulting fine material as the base for a new compost heap

Problem – Compost is warm and damp in the middle but dry elsewhere.

Solution – The pile is too small; collect more material and mix it in. Or turn the heap more frequently.

Problem – The Compost is damp and sweet-smelling but will not heat up.

Solution – The compost needs additional nitrogen; mix in fresh grass clippings or fresh manure

Problem – Pest infestations (rodents, insects such as flies, bees, wasps, and ants)

Solution – Improper food scraps added; don’t add bones, meat, fats, or pet waste. Cover food scraps with various carbon materials or soil; turn the pile once a week.

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Composting Techniques

Every gardener wishes for more compost—that dark, rich, humusy stuff that results from the natural breakdown of organic materials. It is merely the best soil amender, fertilizer, and top dressing.

Making compost isn’t a too tricky process. The basic process consists of layering carbon-rich materials (i.e., the browns such as shredded paper, dry leaves, straw; hay contains weed seeds that could germinate except in very hot piles) with nitrogen-rich materials (i.e., the greens, such as veggie and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and grass clippings) and letting them all rot down. Practically anything organic can go in, but never add meat, fat, dairy products, pet waste, or pernicious weeds. Toss in a thin layer of garden soil occasionally increases the microbes, worms, and other organisms that help break things apart. (Purchased compost accelerators aren’t needed.) Kept moist but not soggy, the pile heats up, enabling the critters to do their work and ultimately forming compost. Aerating the pile by turning it with a garden fork or a winged weeder hastens decomposition but does disturb those hard-working worms. Check out our article “Should I add worms to my compost pile.”

Types of Composters

Hoop bins: Perforated plastic or wire mesh fastened to stakes.

Box bins: Made of wood slats with or without lids; the lidded plastic containers commonly available from garden centers and municipal compost programs.

Multiple-bin systems: A large rectangular bin, lidded, and divided into three square boxes, generally made of wood.

Concrete blocks: Blocks are stacked to create a three- or four-sided bin.

Hay bales: Stacked bales form a short-term composter that eventually composts itself.

Tumblers: Metal drums rotate on a stand; ball types roll on a base or the ground.

Open-pile or trench composting.

Where space permits, you can simply make a compost pile on the ground. Start with a layer of branches to admit air, then alternate your browns and greens on top.

To keep the pile sufficiently moist, cover it with a piece of old carpet or a tarp. When the pile reaches three to four feet (1 to 1.2 meters) high and five feet (1.5 meters) wide, leave it covered to finish breaking down and start a new pile. No-fuss, no muss.

The downside is that an open pile is a bit of an eyesore and can attract vermin. If you don’t have much material to compost, an option is trench composting. Dig a trench or a hole about 12 inches (30 centimeters) deep among your plants and simply bury the stuff. As long as you have spaces to dig without damaging roots, this gets your compost well distributed throughout the garden. Some gardeners create a trench between two rows of vegetables (which then draw nutrients from the decomposing material) or do a rotation system with three garden strips: one planted, one trenched for compost, and one a path. These are rotated annually.

Bin Composting

A compost bin is tidier and more pest-resistant than an open pile. There are various types of bins, both DIY and ready-made, from stationary ones of wire mesh, wood (recycled pallets are ideal), plastic, and even concrete or hay bales to tumbler types that turn or roll. Each has its pros and cons.

Any bin should be sited in a sunny to partly shaded spot that’s easy to access (otherwise, you won’t use it). Some experts recommend placing stationary bins on bare soil so the worms can get in easily, but I’ve had composters sitting on a driveway and no shortage of worms.

Whatever the bin, the process remains the same: layering greens and browns and keeping everything middling moist. Many composters allow you to get finished compost from the bottom while adding fresh material to the top, but it’s easier to stop adding stuff and let everything break down. Pull the bin off, cover the pile of partly finished compost with a tarp, and start anew, or simply get a second bin. Finished compost can take a month or so if you’re hands-on (chopping the ingredients, aerating the pile every few days, monitoring moisture and temperature, and correctly balancing your greens and browns) to a year if you’re laissez-faire.

Multiple-bin, Large-scale Composting

If you have loads of material to compost regularly (and a strong way with a shovel), consider a multiple-bin system. This involves a large, lidded, rectangular bin divided into three compartments, each 1 to 1.2 meters square.

Wood is the most common material with wire mesh used for the interior walls to enhance air circulation. For easy access, the front panels should be either hinged or made so the slats can be removed individually as needed. Fresh material goes in the first bin; after it partially breaks down and shrinks, it is turned into the second bin; after shrinking further, it is turned into the third bin to finish off. This continuous process results in a nice steady supply of compost.

How to make compost tea?

Natural and nutritious, compost tea provides beneficial microorganisms for healthy plants and soil and helps prevent disease. Compost experts recommend an aerated brew (the microorganisms inside the compost require oxygen to thrive). Brewing kits are available online or in stores, but you can easily make your own. Compost tea doesn’t keep well, so make small batches every time you need it.

To brew three to four gallons (11 to 15 liters) of tea, you’ll need:

  • Chlorine-free water*
  • A 5-gallon bucket
  • An aquarium pump rated for a 50-gallon aquarium (A small pond pump should work too.)
  • Plastic tubing that fits the aquarium pump
  • Good quality compost, preferrable homemade but purchased will do too
  • A mesh laundry bag or paint strainer bag
  • Two sturdy sticks
  • Unsulfured molasses (optional, available at grocery stores)

*Did you know: For chlorine-free water, use rainwater or tap water that’s been sitting for a day.

Composting Directions

Step 1

Set up your brewer in a shady area close to a power outlet. Run the plastic tube from the pump all the way down to the bottom of your bucket, center it, and weigh it down using a small brick or stone. Some gardeners like to use a gang valve with multiple tubes fitted with aquarium air stones that break up the bubbles. That is an option, but it is not critical. The most important thing is to get lots of oxygen into the tea.

Step 2

Put one and a half-pound of compost in your bag and tie the top. (You can also put the compost loose in the strain and bucket the tea afterward.) Hang the bag from one stick laid across the top of your bucket and add water to within three inches (seven centimeters) of the rim. Power on the pump and adjust the flow, so the water bubbles as if it were at a vigorous boil. Stir in 30 ml of molasses with the second stick to feed the microorganisms, but don’t overdo it, especially in the summer. Let the mix bubble for no less than 8 hours and no more than 24 hours.

Step 3

Remove the bag and put the used compost on the compost or garden pile. The remaining tea should have an earthly, yeasty smell. If the compost stinks, the microorganisms are dead. Don’t use it. Just throw it back on the compost pile. Apply the tea immediately, pouring one cup or so around the base of each plant, spraying it on the leaves, which helps prevent problems like powdery mildew. Clean the equipment with a stiff brush after brewing each batch.

The secret to making good compost.

No matter what you do, organic materials eventually break down. Decay is inevitable. But—and it’s a big but—there’s a difference between controlled decomposition, as found in a healthy, working compost pile, and the smelly mess of rotting materials in a bin gone bad.

Anyone who has had a bad composting experience (and I confess to having had a few over the years) can tell horror stories of scary-movie magnitude. Still, the good news is that it’s relatively straightforward to create healthy, sweet-smelling compost (often dubbed “gardener’s gold” by compost enthusiasts). And the benefits are beyond doubt: compost returns nutrients and organic matter to the soil, feeds beneficial microorganisms and earthworms and improves the texture, oxygen-retaining capabilities, and moisture-holding capacity of the earth. In other words, compost helps create healthy gardens. Beyond its benefit to gardens, however, there’s another compelling reason to have some form of composting system in your yard: putting kitchen and garden waste in a compost pile removes these materials (or “good garbage,” as my grandmother used to say) from the waste stream. As debates about landfill sites and garbage incineration heat up across Canada, we can all do our bit to reduce the waste our households contribute by heating them—literally—in a compost bin.

Composting can be seen as a kind of culinary alchemy in which a balanced recipe of ingredients is mixed in a bin or pile. As the mixture breaks down, it generates heat, which accelerates the process, and it’s eventually transformed into finished compost. The cooking metaphor is apt.

You can take the low-tech approach by simply piling garden cuttings in the corner of the yard and ignoring them for a year. But if you follow the method described on these pages, your compost should be ready to harvest in three to six months.

How to choose a container for composting?

First, you need some kind of structure to contain your composting materials. Options range from store-bought, plastic single bins to homemade, wooden three-bin units. One of the most popular ready-mades is the black plastic SoilSaver, which has a capacity of .36 cubic meters, a locking lid, and doors at two sides’ bottoms. This kind of unit’s advantages are that it’s easy to dig finished compost out of the side doors, and it’s relatively pest-proof (mainly if you put bricks on top of the lid—urban raccoons have been known to undo the locking mechanism). The black plastic helps the pile retain the heat it generates and trap solar heat, assuming it’s in a sunny location—preferable, but not necessary.

Three-bin units are useful if you’ve got a large property since you’ll have more leaves, grass clippings, and plant debris. When the compost in the first chamber is partially finished, use a pitchfork to transfer it to the second bin, making sure the coarser materials around the sides of the original pile are in the center of the new one. Start from scratch in the first bin. A few weeks later, transfer material in bin two to bin three, and bin one to two, starting over in bin one. This is an excellent way to aerate the pile; also, materials in the three containers are at various decomposition levels—an efficient way of making compost.

No matter what type of bin you use, cover it to keep pests out and heat and moisture in, although it also needs vents for airflow. (This is why wooden models typically have spaces between the slats.) Another selling point is a wide opening at the top so you can stir the mixture quickly.

The Right “ingredients” for Composting

Controlled and speedy decomposition is all about balance. If your compost pile is too full of “browns”—compost lingo for carbon-rich materials such as dead leaves, straw, and dead plant stalks—then your pile will be slow to decompose. On the other hand, if the pile is too full of “greens”—nitrogen-rich materials such as fresh food scraps and grass clippings—it will turn slimy and smell bad. The goal is to have equal amounts, roughly by weight, of browns and greens. The ideal carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for decomposition is about 30:1. Dead leaves (browns) have a C:N ratio of approximately 40:1 to 80:1, while fresh grass clippings (greens) have a ratio of 19:1. But there’s no need to obsess: your eyes, nose, and common sense will tell you if you’ve got roughly the right balance.

The other ingredient you should add to the pile is soil; it supplies starter microorganisms—bacteria and other microscopic organisms that digest and excrete organic materials, breaking them down. Soil also masks the odor of food waste, which discourages pests from visiting your pile—and it’s easier to keep pests out than to dislodge them once they’ve arrived.

Store-bought compost accelerators are generally nitrogen-rich to balance the bulk of compost materials—dead leaves—that are heavy on carbon. But if you’re already adding a balance of green and brown materials, there’s no need to include supplemental nitrogen.

Compost Recipe Instructions

To achieve even greater balance and the speediest possible decomposition, layer the browns and greens, and build the pile all at once. This works well when you’ve got a lot of grass clippings for greens and dead leaves for browns. I always keep a big bag of dead leaves in my bin—that way. I have a ready source of browns, even in spring and summer. But who wants to stockpile rotting vegetables? Add them for greens as they become available.

Begin with a mixture of dead plant stalks—this loose, lower layer permits air circulation at the bottom of the pile, which is important to controlled decomposition. (A densely compacted pile may start to smell bad.) Then, add a layer (approximately six inches or 15 centimeters) of greens, such as coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, and grass clippings. Sprinkle a one to two inches (2.5- to five-centimeter) layer of soil over the greens, and add a thick layer (approximately 30 centimeters) of dead leaves, straw, or dried garden clippings. Repeat this layering process of greens, soil, and browns until the bin is full.

Cooking the Compost Pile

Along with the correct ratio of browns to greens, two other factors contribute to speedy, effective composting: adequate moisture and oxygen flow. Again, it’s a matter of balance. The materials should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge; if you’ve piled in dry leaves, for example, it’s a good idea to run a garden hose to the top of the pile and soak it for a few minutes. Or, you can add water to each brown layer as you build the pile; chances are the green layers are already moist.

The best way to ensure adequate air movement is to stir the pile every week or so. You can use a commercially available compost turner, a pitchfork, or a sharp stick. (I’ve even used an old broom handle.) While you’re turning the pile, check the moisture level, and add water if necessary—think of the wrung-out sponge for guidance. Move the materials at the sides to the center, where the temperature can reach 52 degrees Celsius or more, so all materials get cooked.

Earthworms around the pile base are a good sign; they help microorganisms break down the debris.

Fresh from the oven

You’ll know your compost is ready when it looks and smells like soil. Dig it out; screen out any small bits of undigested materials and throw them back in. Spread compost throughout the garden: top-dress your lawn with a thin layer, dig it into new beds, or mound it around the base of established plants. You’ll soon discover, as committed compost enthusiasts everywhere have, that you can never have enough.

Spoiling the pot

While most organic materials can be added to a compost pile, a few waste categories should be avoided because they may carry pathogens or attract pests: meat; fish; dairy products; fatty, oily foods; bones; used cat litter, and other pet waste. As well, some materials, such as corn cobs and small twigs, take a long time to break down, so you may need to screen them out of your finished compost and put them in again to decompose further.

How to build a worm bin?

Over 200 years ago, Charles Darwin studied earthworms to determine their soil and plants’ effects in the garden. He kept worms in pots and glass tanks filled with earth and spent hours studying their behavior and habits. His book The Formation of Vegetable Mould through Worms’ Action, published in 1881, outlined his earthworm observations. He concluded that “earthworms have played a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose.”

Today, Darwin’s sentiments towards earthworms are shared by gardeners everywhere. Master recyclers, expert soil tillers, and delicious morsels for birds and wildlife, earthworms help make your garden grow.

Worm Biology

There are approximately 4,500 species of worms globally, and of those, 2,700 are earthworm species. Worms are very sensitive to light, and when exposed to the daylight, they’ll look for shelter right away. The worm’s mouth has a small protruding lip called a prostomium. As the worm forages for food, the prostomium is used to sense organic material. When food is found, microorganisms soften the food before it enters the worm’s mouth, and then a muscular gizzard grinds food particles and other materials such as sand and topsoil.

To move through the soil, earthworms make a slimy mucus trail that helps them slide through the ground. When it rains, worms can often be seen wiggling their way across sidewalks and patios. A common myth is that they come out of the ground to avoid drowning as their borrows fill with water, but worms don’t breathe oxygen as we do. It’s believed that worms surface to find a mate.

The worms in your garden.

A healthy garden can boast 100,000 worms. These wiggly creatures help aerate, decompact, and mix soil as they travel through the ground. Their tilling action also allows water and oxygen to penetrate the soil and improves soil conditions for beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms. Earthworms are also a good food source for birds and toads. Red wriggler worms are known as the gardener’s worm because they live close to the soil’s surface. Nightcrawlers are also beneficial to the garden because they burrow deep into the soil to find a home.

Worm Composting

Worms are Mother Nature’s master recyclers. They can compost organic material at exorbitant rates—some earthworms will eat half their body weight in food each day. As worms digest their meal, they leave a trail of worm casts or worm poop, which supplies plants with valuable nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.

How to add a worm bin to your garden?

Aside from adding organic waste directly into your garden, a specially designed worm bin or a plastic storage bin can be used to make your very own compost facility. Follow these simple steps to make your kitchen waste turn into black gold for your garden.

1. Choose a suitable location for your worm bin sheltered from direct sunlight and heavy rain. You can even keep your bin indoors in the basement or garage.

2. Fill your worm bin with a variety of bedding (dry leaves, grass clippings, dead plants, brown paper bags or straw) and a few handfuls of soil and sand. If you’re making your own bin, the container should be relatively shallow and wide with air holes drilled into the bottom to allow air and water to flow in and out of the container.

3. Add water to the bedding, so it resembles a wrung-out sponge.

4. Lift and fluff the bedding to create air pockets.

5. Add the worms. Red wrigglers are the best worms to add to your bin. You can purchase them online or at garden centers, or you may be able to find them in an established compost bin or manure pile.

6. Put food scraps into the bin, making sure to bury them at different depths in the bedding. Make sure you keep feeding your worms and don’t let the bin dry out.

7. Within a few months, you’ll be able to harvest your first batch of black gold to be used to fertilize your garden. Dump the bin’s contents into a wheelbarrow or on a tarp, but make sure you do so in a shady spot, so you don’t dry out your worms. Collect the worms and the tiny, lemon-shaped baby worm cocoons and place them into a container—this is a great activity for kids.

8. Put some of the finished compost back into the bin with fresh bedding and worms to continue production at your worm compost facility.

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How to compost your Christmas tree?

Composting is the planet’s natural recycling gift to people who want to make a difference. You add organic materials from around the house that you used to consider trash. With composting, you create a program to decompose things that most people throw in the trash bin into feasts for worms and microbes and give you rich soil for your home garden. By composting, you’re transforming your waste into life.

You must learn how to compost correctly, or you’ll just be making a toxic dump in your backyard, but composting is not as daunting as it sounds: you’re throwing stuff in a bin and mixing it with other things, rather than tossing it in the trash bin. Composting does require a time commitment, though; it will take between six months to a year for your composter to produce the dark brown, nearly black material that you can add to the soil in the garden.

The holiday season is an excellent source of composting raw materials. The winter isn’t the best time for starting a compost pile because you’ll have more grass clippings and other greenery in the spring and because compost must be kept dry. But if you aren’t new to composting, the holidays produce plenty of material that can be returned to the life cycle by being composted.

Decide on a Composter

Here are some basics to get you started. The first thing you need is a composter, which you can buy or make yourself. There are many on the market: tumblers, grates, bins, pods, even glorified garbage cans. Research the various types online or at a local garden shop and decide which one suits your needs and space requirements; be sure it has a lid. You also can make a composter with chicken wire and stakes or recycled wooden pallets. Screwing, binding, or wiring four wooden pallets to make a box creates a functional but straightforward composter. At the same time, you are recycling the pallets. They are working for you in your garden instead of ending up in a landfill. (A local grocery, furniture, or lumber store, or even a large electronics outlet, may be happy to get rid of its old wood pallets.) My composter is a simple wooden box with slats to allow air to circulate.

Choose a Location for Composting

The next step is choosing a place for your composter. Use a well-drained, level spot, away from walls or wooden fences. If possible, keep the composter away from trees, too, because their roots will seek the moisture and nutrients in your compost pile. You’ll need to set aside four or five square feet or one and a half square meters of space; the more area you have, the easier it is to access it.

Once you have your composter set up, you must learn how to use it correctly. First, lay down a base layer of branches and twigs about six inches (15 cm) deep. (You can even use a wooden pallet for the base layer.) This will help air circulate under the material you will add to the composter: proportionate brown and green material layers.

It’s critical to pay careful attention to your holiday waste because much of it is compostable, such as any wreath made from evergreens or other greens, cut flowers, and plants.

The green layer can include:

  • Grass cuttings
  • Tea leaves (including the bag, if it’s made of organic, recycled material)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Dead flowers
  • Weeds (leaves only; no roots or seeds)
  • Old plants
  • Seaweed, green material from ponds, algae

The brown layer can include:

  • Wood material, prunings, wood chippings (shredded, if possible)
  • Coffee grounds
  • Recycled brown paper, cardboard, paper towel rolls (shredded, if possible)
  • Leaves (small quantities)
  • Eggshells and paper egg cartons (rinse and crush first)
  • Sawdust, wood shavings, pinecones
  • Hay and straw (small quantities)
  • Clothes dryer lint, pet and human hairs
  • Uncooked kitchen scraps that are plant-, vegetable-, or fruit-based, without any oils

The following should never be added to your composter:

  • Meat or fish
  • Grease, oil, cooked food scraps
  • Cat litter
  • Manure
  • Diapers
  • Barbecue ash

There’s no shortage of kitchen scraps around the holidays, and these scraps are either green or brown material, depending on what you’re cooking. You can set aside a bin in your kitchen for collecting food-prep scraps. It doesn’t have to be massive; I use a stainless steel bucket with a lid, which I keep on the kitchen counter within easy reach. Use the list provided, paying particular attention to what not to include, and start collecting your scraps. (No cooked food can be added to a compost pile because it lacks the necessary enzymes that break it down.) When the container is full, empty the bin into your composter and mix it in. If you’re only getting started and the composter is empty, you’ll need to toss in some grass clippings to cover your kitchen scraps to deter pests.