Composting Can Be Pretty With These Tips

A Compost Recipe to Demystify Composting

Composting is an environmentally helpful way to improve your garden soil and reduce waste. Yard waste and table scraps can make up a large part of household garbage which could be turned into nutrient rich amendments for your garden with the right compost recipe. Even if you only have a small garden, composting is one of the most important activities you can do to save money and prevent waste from unnecessarily ending up in a landfill.composting-can-be-pretty-with-these-tips

Some people mistakenly assume that compostable materials thrown in the garbage will break down and feed the soil in the landfill. But throwing vegetable and garden scraps in the trash means it will be surrounded by garbage and not have the proper compost recipe. Instead, it releases harmful methane gas into the environment.

Composting isn’t difficult, but it isn’t as simple as just throwing your kitchen scraps and garden cuttings into a heap and checking on it a year later. Eventually, those items will break down and create compost, but it is much faster, cleaner, and more effective knowing the proper compost recipe.

Let’s make some compost, shall we?This compost recipe takes the mystery out of how to compost. There are four elements to this recipe and in proper balance, they will work beautifully.

Compost Recipe Ingredients

Healthy compost results from a combination of four ingredients: greens, browns, air, and moisture.

1. Greens (Energy Materials) – 1 Part 

Green compost ingredients are those with higher nitrogen content such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and garden trimmings. These materials rot quickly and are full of the compounds needed for fast microbial growth. They are usually quite wet and heavy and can get stinky fast unless you balance them out with enough brown material.

2. Browns (Bulking Agents) 2-3 Parts

Brown compost ingredients are those with higher carbon content such as paper, shredded woody material, and straw. Browns are dry and bulky, creating space for air to reach the greens. They do not decay rapidly without greens because they do not hold enough moisture.

Are Fallen Leaves a “Brown”?

Color alone is not a good indication of what is considered brown materials. Deciduous leaves that have fallen and turned brown, as well as chopped up tree and shrub clippings, have higher nitrogen balance than true “browns.” Leaves and chopped-up clippings are excellent for compost and can decompose readily on their own, without a need for additional greens or browns. You can choose to compost these materials from the garden on their own, or mixed in with the 1 part green / 2-3 part brown mixture. Just be sure not to replace the browns with fallen leaves or your compost will be too wet and stinky.fallen-leaves-for-compost-recipe

3. Air

Packing layers of green and brown materials into a compost bin is not going to make compost alone. Air needs to be introduced through turning the compost with a fork, an aeration tool, or a rolling composter. As the microbes work to break down the materials, the compost heap will become warm. The heat in the middle of the pile can reach up to 150 degrees F. Turning the compost once a week should be plenty, but to speed up the process, mix the compost every few days to introduce more air and move materials from the edges to the middle.

4. Moisture

Moisture is also necessary to give the microbes the best possible conditions to break down the material. After adding the materials, water the compost pile and mix it well. It should be damp but not soggy. In dry months you may have to add water, and in wet months you may have to protect the compost from rain.

Add These Materials to Speed up Composting

Some materials are full of microbes, bacteria, fungi, soil insects, mites, and worms that will speed up the decomposition process. Add just a small portion of one of these compost amendments to really get the party started.

  • Mushroom manure
  • Well-rotted manure (not pet waste)
  • Healthy garden soil
  • Compost acceleratorpile-style-compost-recipe

Keep These Materials Out of the Compost

Not everything can go in your home compost bin, although some of these can go in city or county large scale industrial compost bins where the temperatures are consistently hot enough to kill pathogens and seeds. Before you compost these items, be sure to check your local composting regulations.

  • Pesticides and herbicides – Keep your garden healthy without introducing pesticides and herbicides into the compost bin.
  • Compostable grocery bags – Despite the name, these should not go in your home compost bin. Use brown paper bags instead.
  • Citrus fruit – Citric acid kills bacteria and fungus, which is wonderful for cleaning your kitchen but bad for composting.
  • Evergreen clippings – Some evergreens take a long time to compost at home and some resins can slow down and/or inhibit the composting process.
  • Meat, bones, dairy, or animal product food scraps – The home compost doesn’t get hot enough to break these down effectively, and it will attract pests, like rats, to the compost pile.
  • Pet waste – Dog and cat poop can carry pathogens that could be transferred to the soil.
  • Diseased plant material – Diseased or infested plants may perpetuate the incidence of disease and pests in future years.
  • Weeds that have gone to seed – Compost may not get hot enough to sterilize weed seeds.
  • Large logs, thorny branches – Big, woody items will be too large to break down. Chip or grind all large, woody materials instead.
  • Poison ivy, invasive weeds, and other noxious plants – Don’t risk spreading these plants by composting them.

Composting Shouldn’t Be Gross

If you think composting is yucky or dirty, you aren’t doing it right! Compost should smell fresh, sweet, and earthy. Overly stinky compost is not properly in balance, but it is an easy fix.

Too many greens in your compost will become soggy and smell bad. Compost can also start to stink when it is too wet.  In both cases, adding more brown materials and turning your compost to introduce air will help to remedy the problem.

This compost recipe takes the mystery out of how to compost. There are four elements to this recipe and in proper balance, they will work beautifully.

Fruit Flies, Maggots, and Rats, Goodbye!

While the goal of composting is to attract insects and fungus to your compost bin, you shouldn’t need to fight off an army of critters to get into the compost. The best defense against an overly active compost bin is, again, balance. If you follow this compost recipe and keep a layer of brown on the top of the compost, you will only attract those critters that are going to work for you to make healthy, nutritious compost.

Check Out These Other Articles on Smart Composting



About the Author : Stephanie RoseAn artistic gardener aiming to feed the body & soul through an urban potager garden & a community veggie plot in Vancouver.View all posts by Stephanie Rose

  1. Michael
    MichaelSeptember 19,16

    Fantastic guide. I didn’t realize that leaves were not brown. Plus I need to add a bunch more brown. Now I know. Thanks!

  2. Bettye
    BettyeSeptember 22,16

    For the brown matter in my compost, I add paper from my shredder. This helps with my compost recipe and also helps keep paper out of the landfill! It breaks down very quickly.
    I learned a lot from your article. I was one of those who thought vegetables would also break down in the landfill and didn’t realize they were causing methane gas. Another reason to be proud that I am a composter!

  3. Carole @ Garden Up Green
    Carole @ Garden Up GreenSeptember 28,16

    Great guide for establishing a compost bin cycle. I don’t use a bin, never have I’m more of a direct composter..

  4. Rebecca Bruce
    Rebecca BruceSeptember 28,16

    I am so excited right now just thinking of spring , I’m in northern michigan,getting ready to plant bulbs for a beautiful spring ahead.I grew up across the road from my great aunt and uncles green house,I always wanted a greenhouse they made a living from it and were very successful. Still today I can say I got my green thumb as a lil kid just hanging around and being in awe of how it started in February and watching everything grow is and always will be a part of me ,how lucky can someone be . RIPJensons Greenhouse ,flushing, Michigan thankyou Aunt Margaret and Uncle Carl for giving me my love of gardening and Birds ♡ this ” garden therapy” is just what I needed with summers end it’s uplifting to read your articles and have lots of things to do once it’s cold outside ! I can hardly waite to start a new compost who would of thought this article made my day !

  5. Molly
    MollyOctober 13,16

    I live in the city and never seem to have enough brown material for my compost. I’m reluctant to add fallen leaves because of all the weed seeds present among them, but I didn’t know (until now) that leaves are not considered browns. It seems silly to buy a straw bale or bag of mulch for this purpose, but I added mulch occasionally to my tumbler this summer and my compost isn’t anaerobic anymore! When I put my vegetable beds to bed in late fall, I mix in compost that probably isn’t finished yet, but it finishes in the bed. Is that a good idea? I have hesitated to added shredded (copy) paper as browns due to the fact that I have no idea what chemicals were added to most of the paper. I have added shredded brown paper bags (rarely have these unless I forgot my reusable grocery bags, though!) and newspaper (which I get at work –on the reception table for our customers).

    • Stephanie Rose
      Stephanie RoseOctober 13,16

      Great, great questions, Molly! First of all, yes, you can dig unfinished compost into the garden and let it finish there. I do this often. I’m vigilant about what I put in the compost, however, as many weed seeds, disease and pests will not break down and will add unpleasantness to the garden. Secondly, I hear you about paper and straw. We get enough paper through cardboard and other paper packaging that we use, I also pick up unbleached, unprinted paper at recycling depots if I need extra. That being said, you can compost your leaves and yard clippings without kitchen waste and you won’t need extra browns (because leaves are balanced already). If you really want to use your kitchen waste for garden food, maybe it’s time to get a vermicomposter!

  6. Sharon
    SharonNovember 16,16

    I think this mini tutorial is awesome but about landfills…wouldn’t those be really toxic places for comport to develop anyway? Of course making compost the right way is so much better for the earth!! I can’t believe some people would think otherwise.

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