Everyone wants their garden to be the best in terms of how fruitful it will be when the harvest comes. One of the most common ways of making sure that happens is by enriching the soil with compost. We already wrote quite a bit about compost, but it will not hurt to repeat what composting is.
The definition is as follows: any organic material that is put onto the soil to decay as to have its nutrients absorbed by the ground can be considered compost. This process is completely natural and common in nature itself – imagine a lone apple tree in a field. If there is no one to pick up the ripe apple, it will fall from the tree, and rot away. This decayed matter will not simply disappear but will rather be absorbed by the soil which will use the nutrients to feed the apple tree again.
People have taken notice of this process and have tried to emulate it in their own backyard as a means to provide a natural way for their garden soil to get the nutrients it so desperately needs. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see specific parts of gardens or even containers envisioned to collect compost matter until it decays enough to be mixed with the soil.
However, one of the questions that may be raised is what exactly can be composted? Well, there are two main types of compost – green and brown compost matter. They are really easy to tell apart and mainly follow the color scheme that is given, but let’s explain each one just to be sure.
Green compost matter is a matter which is rich in nitrogen – these are materials that are moist and break down quickly. They are common in any household and are the fuel for your compost pile. You might have guessed it, but basically, any plant leftover is considered to be green compost matter, including things such as fruit and vegetable peels, tea leaves, and grass clippings.
Brown compost matter leans towards carbon instead of nitrogen. They decompose slower, so you will want to chop them up a bit before throwing them away. Browns are especially important in compost piles since they give stability as opposed to the quick decay of green compost matter.
When mixing these two, you should always veer towards the more brown matter, as it will be easier to supervise and add green matter when and if needed. Otherwise, if you overdo it with greens, your compost pile may come under attack by pests, get smelly and degrade too fast. Be sure to turn your compost pile regularly to allow for airflow as this will get it going sooner and prevent it from getting too wet in certain parts.
This article will help you decide which materials you can safely compost by providing you with an exhaustive list of possible compost materials. We are sure you will find at least some of these in your household, and you may decide to start composting yourself.
Green compost materials
Let’s start with an easy one. While an apple a day may keep the doctor away, apple cores are an excellent way of starting up your compost pile. The same goes for basically any other fruit scrap – orange or lemon peels, pear cores – the possibilities are almost endless. If unsure, do your due diligence and check on the Internet, but the vast majority of fruit scraps are not only safe to put in your compost pile – they are an excellent way to keep the greens topped.
Similar to fruit scraps, vegetable scraps are a welcome addition to the compost pile. Some would argue even more so since some are structurally softer and will decompose faster. Of course, this goes on a case-by-case basis, as corn cobs will not decompose as fast as tomatoes will, for example. Still, since vegetables are found in most homes, they are an easy way to fill your compost pile.
Continuing on with common foods, bread is one of the easiest foods to find around the house. A lot of times bread gets too dry or even stale and cannot be eaten. Why not put it in the compost pile as well, if this is the case? Bread decomposed quickly and easily, which makes it a good compost choice.
There is a caveat, though – bread can attract birds, vermin, and other critters to your compost pile so if it is in the open and not in a container, you may want to skip past this one.
Cooked rice/cooked pasta
We are lumping these two together as they are a similar vein of compost material. It has happened to each one of us at least once that we did not eat all the food that we cooked, whether it was because we cooked too much or simply went out to eat instead. The food spoiled and it was time to trash it... However – this is where the compost pile comes in. Similarly to bread, both rice and pasta decompose quickly and serve as good fuel. Keep them in a closed container though, as they attract as many critters as bread would.
Another one that happens to everyone, burnt food is usually not very delicious and something you want to put behind you as soon as possible. If you have burnt toast or similar, non-meat products, why not put them into your compost pile? The soil will not care.
After you have squeezed all the delicious drink that energizes you during the day, you have to dispose of the coffee grounds somewhere. Although they do not follow the established rules of “green” and “brown”, coffee grounds are completely organic and will decompose quickly, which therefore puts them in the “greens” category.
Corn cobs and husks
While we mentioned corn cobs in the vegetable scraps category, corn husks are something you may overlook when thinking about what to put in your compost pile. Well, why not? The corn “suit” is basically a leaf and is often used to encase foods that are then baked or steamed – but since it is not edible it needs to be discarded. Simply discard it onto the compost pile and be done with it.
Now this one does not come from the kitchen but is perhaps the most common such compost pile material. Grass clippings come from mowing the lawn and are easy to obtain, especially if you let your grass grow a bit more than usual. This grass is fresh and rich in nitrogen, which will make your compost pile decay quickly.
In a similar vein to grass clippings, it is easy to find fresh leaves to put in your compost pile, especially if you are pruning your living fence. This way you will also get some of that brown compost material in, but we will get to that. For now, stick to fresh leaves as an easy way of adding to your compost pile, especially if you are working with a larger garden.
Old herbs and spices
Herbs and spices may seem like an odd choice to include when composting, but if you think about it – they are not much more than dried-out plants in a very small package. This will make them decay quite quickly, so therefore they are a good candidate for the pile as well. Do not fret, the compost will not feel it even if you put in some of the spicier kinds.
We already mentioned these in fruit scraps, but so many fruits have rinds that it felt disingenuous not to mention them again. Whether it is citrus, orange, or even melon, be sure that you can put these inedible parts of these summer fruit inside of your compost pile without worrying about anything.
Time for a surprising one. Any alcohol, be it beer or hard liquor, is completely fine for compost. A quick little chemistry lesson reminder – most fruits, when decaying, dramatically increase in alcohol content. Most alcohol, especially harder liquor, is also made from plants. Why would it not be good to put it in the pile then?
Tea leaves are simply dried leaves from different plants. If ground up, they are even easier to decompose, so they may be safely put into the compost pile. Therefore, tea is really similar to spices and herbs.
If you have too much potting soil or you are simply discarding old soil, it is prudent to put it in the compost pile as well. Potting soil is often rich in nutrients and it will, therefore, find its use in a compost pile. Now, potting soil is not exactly a “green” compost material, but we put it here since its nitrogen content should be quite higher than its carbon content, especially if you used it before disposing of it.
While potting soil is the better choice, due to its artificially enriched mineral content, garden soil can be used in a pinch as well to serve the same purpose. This is especially true if your garden is known to be a good ground for growing plants. A couple of shovels of soil can do wonders for you. However, always be sure to check the acidity and plan accordingly. You do not want to mix pH levels that are too far apart from one another.
Plants can die from a lot of reasons, such as overwatering or underwatering, too much or too little sunlight, too much or too little warmth, and so on. This is completely natural. When you are disposing of your dead plants, if their demise was not because of disease, then they are a good candidate for your compost pile. They will still retain some nutrients which will be happily absorbed by your soil later on.
Now this one is not for everyone as seaweed is not widely available, but if you live near a beach where you can pick some up, then do so. Seaweed is completely disease-free, and the nutrients and minerals inside it are fantastic for the growth of plants.
Interestingly enough, weeds can have their use. Imagine them as grass cuttings that you have removed yourself instead of mowing them down. When put into the compost pile, weeds will not be able to “take root” and destroy your compost pile by turning it into a weeds farm, but rather be decomposed too quickly by the nutrient-rich environment.
Rabbits are known to be one of the greatest helpers in one’s garden, even though they may be a pest as well when trying to get to your cabbage or carrots. Their usefulness comes through their droppings, which are an incredible fertilizer. Collect them by simply putting down a newspaper cover in their enclosure, then regularly removing it.
Teabags and coffee filters
To finish off the “greens”, two weird ones. While neither green nor seemingly easily decomposable, both tea bags and coffee filters are made in such a way that they actually decay pretty easily. They are also wet when used and coming out of their respective housings, so they will disappear easily in a well-kept compost pile.
Brown compost materials
Newspapers are mostly made of recycled paper and are therefore an easily decayable material. Before you start panicking about how can paper be a good compost material, let us remind you where paper comes from – trees. It’s just trees with extra steps, really. Especially when recycled. Be sure to shred the paper, though.
While the recycled paper is best, basically any non-glossy paper (such as found in magazines) can be used as compost material. It will take a bit of time, but if you spray it down with water, it will decay quicker than you would think. Shred this as well.
Paper tissues and paper towels
Following in the same suit, paper towels can be safely discarded to the compost pile as well. They usually also retain a lot of moisture from cleaning up so the time to decay is reduced as well.
We already mentioned pruning the hedges and throwing the leaves into the compost pile. Well, you can throw the whole thing away, since the branches are an excellent way to give structure to your compost pile. They will decompose slower, so be sure to chop them up a bit and make them smaller.
In the same vein as branches, their smaller cousins will serve nicely as a carbon source in your compost pile. Not to mention that there are a bunch of twigs that you are sure to come across in your garden if you have basically any trees in your yard.
Hair will degrade really slowly, so it may be used as a bit of an anti-catalyst in case your compost pile is doing “too well” and is burning up too fast. Be it your hair clippings or hair clippings from a horse (although we suspect yours are more readily available), they will serve as a good nutrient source. Interestingly enough, some people put it in the “green materials” zone. This is true based on the amount of nitrogen in the hair, but since it takes a long while to decompose, it can be used as brown material as well.
This one can also go to both types of compost materials. However, eggshells also take a long time to decay so perhaps you should also make them smaller by smashing them. This will also prevent animals from smelling it and invading the compost pile.
Shells from any nuts can be used in compost piles. Be it peanuts, or hazelnuts – they’re all great as brown materials. You may also want to, as is now becoming a tradition with brown compost materials, smash them into smaller pieces.
While we said that most fruit scraps are a great compost material due to their fast and easy decay, there are some scraps that are different and will not break down as fast. Pits decay especially slowly, so they are best used as providers of air pockets inside your compost pile. We do not need to remind you why air circulation is necessary inside a compost pile.
Straw is dried-out grass. While fresh grass clippings are good for the green material component, straw is great for the brown material component. Just do not allow it to get too wet as it will decay too quickly. Interestingly, the straw that has been used for bedding can be used as well, as most manure is also completely fine to be used as compost, as manure decays quickly and still has valuable nutrients.
Continuing the subject of fresh vs. dried out, leaves, when dried out and fallen out of a tree, are not bad to put onto your compost pile. They just serve a different purpose. Fallen leaves are left with fewer nutrients and will decompose slower.
Since most beddings are made from wood chips or straw, a lot of animal bedding can be used as compost material once it is not for use anymore. Therefore, you know what you can use the bedding for next time you clean your pets’ or animals’ enclosure.
Similarly to paper, cardboard shredding can also be used as brown compost material. Cardboard boxes are easy to find and to shred, so they can easily be used as the structure in your compost pile.
While you may already be using branches and twigs, you should know that you can use other parts of a tree as well – basically, any wood will do. What you need to keep in mind, again, is the size of wood you’re using. The best thing is to run it through a wood chipper, which will keep it at manageable sizes.
Fallen bird’s nests
Birds often leave their nests for a variety of different reasons. These then serve no purpose but to eventually be blown away by the wind. That is the reason why, if you see one of those on the ground, you can use them as compost as well. If the fall was an accident, the birds will construct a new nest, and if it was empty, then you have nothing to worry about.
We certainly do not recommend you taking apart and taking down birds’ nests on your own, however, as they might have little fledglings in them.
Brown shopping or lunch bags
Another one that’s a little out of the left field at first glance, both shopping and lunch bags can be used as a paper substitute in your compost pile. However, make sure they’re made out of decayable material. If you put them in plastic bags, that is not going to decay in a couple of generations, let alone during your lifetime.
Sawdust is a weird one. You absolutely must use untreated wood, as treated wood can be filled with materials that will not only be detrimental to the decay but also harmful to the organic life when it decays. However, sawdust breaks down quickly even though it’s filled with carbon, so if you know what you’re doing, it will work splendidly.
Latex (balloons, gloves)
Interestingly enough, latex decomposes and is therefore okay to use as compost. However, due to the sheer time needed for it (around 4 years), you may want to look elsewhere. Especially if you’re not sure if those gloves are plastic or latex.
As with most other tree products, pinecones will eventually decay. Their strong shell will make sure they do not decay too quickly if you’re looking for brown compost material.
When cleaning out your fireplace, you probably dispose of it anywhere you can. It can get annoying. However, if you haven’t yet, try putting it in compost. In smaller doses, ash will give you a great mixture, since it is all wood anyway.
You can read what Alycea says about composting on her blog here.
Well, there it is. 40 things you can easily put in your compost pile without thinking too much about it. Be sure to go through the list and see if there’s anything you could start your own compost pile with today, and make sure you follow the usual guidelines for making compost. Make sure the mixture has the right ratio of green to brown, turn it over regularly, and most importantly, give it time.
You can read detailed instructions on composting in the backyard in our article here.