Choosing Your Compost

We’ve talked about the benefits and utility of composting before, but questions we often hear are what stuff can’t I compost, what stuff should I compost and how much of the various materials?  I could just give you a long list of each category, but that will inevitably leave many things out and leave you still confused as to the reason each item falls into said category. Therefore we’re going to break it down for you (pun intended).

Composting is the process of breaking down organic material to create rich, fertile soil.  However, since compost piles are usually close to your home, you don’t want it to be a breeding ground for pests.  As a general rule you should avoid composting meat, dairy and bread products as well as any items that contain some sort of human waste or bodily fluid.  These items bring the potential for pest and rodent problems as well as health issues.  This is just the basics of what to avoid, and there are plenty of other items that may be potentially problematic, but as we mentioned above, those belong in the lists.

Now that we’ve established what not to compost, there is also a balance that must be struck with the items you can compost. Compost material is categorized as either greens or browns.  Greens are nitrogen rich and browns are carbon rich.  Nitrogen-rich greens facilitate reproduction and growth of microorganisms that break down the material.  Greens also help increase the temperature of the pile, which is necessary for successful decomposition. Carbon-rich browns help to energize the microorganisms and they help keep the smell under control. 

The suggested ratio for nitrogen to carbon for a compost pile is approximately 30:1.  However, maintaining a perfect balance isn’t exactly realistic.  You can gauge if you are getting close by the look, smell and success of your compost pile.  A compost pile with too many greens will have a bad odor and possibly a slimy appearance.  Too many browns, and you’re pile will take forever to turn into compost. Striking the balance takes time and patience so don’t get overwhelmed by this concept, just make sure it’s something you give thought to as you are adding to your compost pile.