composting 101


Composting can be as simple and complex as you want it to be. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm going to keep it simple. Newbies just need to know the basic information and know that they can do this! The first step is to get started, and let the process and the compost guide you.

As a seasoned and passionate composteur myself, I can say that I have learned the most by experimenting and trying things out on my own. So of all of my recommendations, that would be my top one for the beginning composteur. Below are what I believe to be the most essential rules of composting.


Rule One: Compost the Living

The basis of composting is that materials that come from nature are compostable. We could get into semantics about what nature is, but let's keep this simple. Anything that came from something that was once alive, like your leftover food scraps, your newspapers, paper packaging, eggshells, coffee grounds (the list goes on).

Rule Two: Balance the Greens and the Browns

You will often hear about "greens" and "browns in regards to composting.

Greens are your items that adds nitrogen to the compost as they break down and they often (but not always) are green. They include your food scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds, just to name a few. They are the ingredient that will get gross and funky without the brown.

Browns are your items that add carbon, and they balance with the nitrogen to break down into healthy garden compost. Browns include brown leaves, straw, pine cones, paper, cardboard, and wood chips.

For ideal compost, keep these balanced by in a 50/50 density proportion. Brown materials are usually fluffier, so you will probably have more brown by volume. If your compost is stinky and gooey, add brown. If it is dry and breaking down very slowly, add green.

Rule Three: Use established compost as a starter

Adding some established compost will help get your pile started. A good compost will have a balance of microorganisms and decomposers that will help get a new compost pile started. 

rule four: know what you can and can't compost. 

Here is a running list of some things you can compost:

  • Egg Shells
  • Coffee Grounds and filters
  • Tea Bags
  • Wine and Beer (so great for the compost!)
  • Banana Peels
  • Newspaper
  • Most McDonald's Packaging 
  • Brown paper packaging
  • Grey Paper Egg Cartons
  • Wooden Coffee Stir Sticks
  • Anything that came from a fruit or vegetable
  • Old Leftovers
  • Old Moldy Food
  • Sandwich Crusts
  • Bones 
  • Mushrooms (one of my very favorite things to compost)
  • Seeds
  • Old Flowers
  • Pizza Boxes
  • Toilet Paper Rolls
  • Any packaging that says it is compostable/commercially compostable

And here are somethings you might want to omit from your compost:

  • Dryer link (unless you only wear wool and cotton, it will have plastic or synthetic fibers)
  • Pet waste
  • Raw Meat

rule 5: turn the heap

No matter which system you decide to set up for yourself, you will need to turn the compost. Personally I prefer the open pile system and using a pitchfork to fold the heap over about once a week. (Okay, as a compost nerd I do it about 3 times a day. But I am obsessive about it, and I only do that to my "mother" pile).

Turning the heap adds essential oxygen to the pile and helps expedite the break down. Without adding this oxygen, compost will settle and can start to grow anaerobic bacteria (which tends to smell putrid). 

rule 6: Don't be afraid to start

I know its not feasible for everyone to compost (more worm food for me!) but if this is something you are thinking about trying, I say GO FOR IT! There are so many sources on the internet these days to help you, there are YouTube tutorials, workshops, and lots of growing support and understanding. Plus you will likely be reducing your waste by 40% and returning those much need natural resources to the soil. 

Marianne Maschal