Composting doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. There are several ways you can create a DIY compost bin. Things to consider include how much space you have in your hard and how much compost you want to generate. Remember that composting takes time and a little energy to create, so be patient with the process.
– The hotter the compost, the better.
– For faster breakdown, shred and cut all compostable items to be as small as possible.
– To aid the decomposition process, you can add red worms to the compost.
1.) GATHER, PILE & BEGIN
If you are just beginning to compost, gather an assortment of compostable items and place them somewhere in your yard out of sight. You will want to start your compost pile on bare earth as close to your garden as possible, allowing worms and other beneficial creatures to aerate your compost and naturally transport its nutrients into your garden bed. You can dig a hole and lay twigs or straw a few inches below the compost pile to help with drainage and aeration. After you have successfully begun your compost, we recommend using a bin to keep the process tidy and discourage animals from stealing your food scraps. (Your neighbors and nose will also be thankful). Additionally, a container will offer more heat for the composting materials inside and will help regulate moisture. Make a compost bin of any size. Do your best to estimate how much composting you will be doing. If you want to build your own compost bin as opposed to buying one, see the University of Missouri Extension’s crafty examples of compost bins here.
See our compiled list of compostable items below:
|Material:||Good for Composting?:||Carbon/Nitrogen:||Extra Information:|
|100% Cotton Clothing||Yes!||Carbon||Best When Ripped Into Pieces, Avoid Colored Ink Where Possible|
|Banana Peels||NO!||Nitrogen||May Contain Pesticide Residue That Will Prevent Decomposition|
|Bark||Yes!||Carbon||Thinly Layer; Avoid Matting|
|Black Walnut Leaves||NO!||Nitrogen||Contains Toxins Which Can Kill Plants|
|Bones||MAYBE||Nitrogen||Good for Compost but Attracts Insects & Animals to Compost Pile|
|Bread||MAYBE||Nitrogen||Slow to Decompose, Can Become Slimy|
|Cardboard||Yes!||Carbon||Shred Material to Avoid Matting|
|Cat Litter||NO!||Nitrogen||Can Cause Health Risks|
|Coal “BBQ” Ash||NO!||Carbon||Only Use Ash from Clean Materials|
|Coffee Grounds||Yes!||Nitrogen||Coffee Grounds & Filters are Great for Composting|
|Corn Cobs & Stalks||Yes!||Carbon||Best When Chopped|
|Crab Shells||Yes!||Carbon||Best When Crushed|
|Dead Bugs||Yes!||Carbon||Fast Decomposition|
|Diapers||NO!||Nitrogen||Can Cause Health Risks|
|Dirt from Shoes||Yes!||Nitrogen||Avoid Using too Much|
|Diseased Plants||NO!||Nitrogen||Will Spread Disease Through Compost When Spread Onto New Plants|
|Dryer Lint||Yes!||Carbon||Best if Derived From Natural Fibers|
|Dust||Yes!||Carbon||Take Your Sweepings & Throw ‘Em in the Pile!|
|Eggshells||Yes!||Carbon||Best When Crushed|
|Farm Animal Manure||Yes!||Nitrogen||Compost ‘Activator’|
|Flower Cuttings||Yes!||Nitrogen||Chop Up Any Lengthily Wood Stems For Best Results|
|Fruit & Veggie Scraps||Yes!||Nitrogen||Add w/ Dry Carbon Items|
|Garden Plants||Yes!||Nitrogen||Disease-Free Plants ONLY|
|Grass Clippings||Yes!||Nitrogen||Add In Thin Layers So They Don’t Mat Into Clumps|
|Green Comfrey Leaves||Yes!||Nitrogen||Compost ‘Activator’|
|Hair||Yes!||Carbon||Thinly Layer; Avoid Clumping|
|Human Manure||NO!||Nitrogen||Can Carry Disease & Only Be Used Safely Under Very Specific Conditions|
|Leather||Yes!||Carbon||Best When Ripped Into Pieces, Slow De-composer|
|Leaves||Yes!||Both, Depending||Leaves Break Down Faster When Shredded|
|Lemon & Lime||Yes!||Nitrogen||Acidic, Do Not Over-Use|
|Meat||MAYBE||Nitrogen||Good for Compost but Attracts Insects & Animals to Compost Pile|
|Medicine||NO!||Carbon||May Contain Chemical Residue That Prevents Decomposition|
|Melted Ice Cream||Yes!||Carbon||Compost ‘Activator’|
|Nail Clippings||Yes!||Carbon||Probably a Better Idea Than Chewing Them|
|Newspaper||Yes!||Carbon||Avoid Using Glossy, Weatherproof or Tough Paper & Colored Inks|
|Nuts||MAYBE||Nitrogen||Very Slow to Decompose, Can Hold Up Rotting Down Process (If Used, Crush & Sprinkle Lightly)|
|Oil||NO!||Nitrogen||Inability to Break Down; Can Cause Health Risks|
|Old Spices||Yes!||Nitrogen||Fast Decomposition|
|Old Veggies & Fruits||Yes!||Nitrogen||Nitrogen Rich, Fast Decomposition|
|Orange Rinds||NO!||Nitrogen||May Contain Pesticide Residue That Will Prevent Decomposition|
|Pasta||MAYBE||Nitrogen||Slow to Decompose, Can Become Slimy|
|Peanut Butter||Yes!||Nitrogen||Avoid Using Too Much, Can Make Mixture Slimy|
|Peat Moss||Yes!||Nitrogen||However Old, Peat Moss Makes a Great Compost Addition|
|Pencil Shavings||Yes!||Carbon||Fast Decomposition|
|Pet Fur||Yes!||Carbon||Thinly Layer; Avoid Clumping|
|Pet Manure||NO!||Nitrogen||Can Carry Disease & Only Be Used Safely Under Very Specific Conditions|
|Pine Needles||Yes!||Carbon||Acidic, Do Not Over-Use|
|Plastic||NO!||Carbon||Takes Thousands of Years to Decompose|
|Popcorn||Yes!||Nitrogen||Popped or Not Popped, It’s All Good|
|Sawdust||NO!||Carbon||Sawdust May Contain Machine and/or Chain Oil|
|Seaweed & Kelp||Yes!||Nitrogen||Apply in Thin Layers; Good Source for Trace Materials|
|Shredded Paper||Yes!||Carbon||Avoid Using Glossy, Weatherproof or Tough Paper & Colored Inks|
|Shrub Prunings||Yes!||Carbon||Woody Prunings Are the Slowest to Break Down|
|Small Rocks & Gravel||NO!||Neither||Can Be Used In Very Small Quantities to Help Break Down Compost, Adds No Other Effect|
|Soil||Yes!||Nitrogen||Soil Can Be Added to Mask Odor & Accelerate Compost Process|
|Spoiled Canned Foods||MAYBE||Both||Good for Compost but Attracts Insects & Animals to Compost Pile if Meat is Included|
|Sticky Notes||Yes!||Carbon||Avoid Pieces with Excessive Ink|
|Straw or Hay||Yes!||Carbon||Straw is Best; Hay (w/ Seeds) Is Less Ideal|
|Subscriptions from Magazines||Yes!||Carbon||Avoid Glossy Paper or Colored Ink|
|Synthetic Fibers||NO!||Nitrogen||Inability to Break Down|
|Table Scraps||Yes!||Nitrogen||Add w/ Dry Carbon Items|
|Tea Leaves||Yes!||Nitrogen||Bags of Tea Leaves or Loose Tea Leaves Work Well|
|Used Matches||Yes!||Carbon||Fast Decomposition|
|Vacuum Cleanings||Yes!||Carbon||Fast Decomposition|
|Wedding Bouquet||Yes!||Carbon||A Longer Decomposition Time Then Most Items on the List But Definitely Possible|
|Weeds||NO!||Nitrogen||When Weeds Have Seeds, They Will Survive Composting Process & Weed When Compost is Applied|
|Wood Ash||Yes!||Carbon||Only Use Ash from Clean Materials; Sprinkle Lightly|
|Wood Chips||Yes!||Carbon||High Carbon Levels, Do Not Over-Use|
2.) FILL YOUR COMPOST BIN WITH THE PERFECT RECIPE
You can compost just about anything, which makes collecting compostable materials an enjoyable task for the kids. You will want to give your compost a well-balanced diet. This means filling it strategically with waste that creates both nitrogen and carbon, balancing your concoction to make just the right compost for your garden. You will want to keep an eye on how many acidic items you add to your compost depending on what effect you hope your compost to have. Highly acidic compost on top of highly acidic soil rarely makes for a pleasant gardening experience, so it’s also important to understand what the pH balance of your soil is.
You can view our table below for ideas of what to add and what not to add to your compost. You will be surprised by some of the items! The table below can also serve as a guide to creating composts with higher amounts of nitrogen, carbon and acidity.
3.) MIX DIFFERENT MATERIALS
When adding items to your compost pile, remember to keep a close eye on the carbon/nitrogen ratio. All compostable materials are either carbon or nitrogen based. High doses of carbon can be found in elements like branches, stems, dried leaves, bark, egg shells and ash. Nitrogen-rich matter, synonymous with protein-rich matter, consists of manure, food scraps and healthy, green plants. Remember, a healthy compost pile has much more carbon than it does nitrogen. Too much nitrogen makes your compost dense and slower to decompose.
You want to avoid large clumps of single material. This is especially true for large quantities of green material. You want to avoid compost pile that lacks air circulation, or is too anaerobic. Composters often layer or mix their different materials within their bin.
Layering makes for a great composting technique.
If you are using a bin that has a bare earth bottom, place some straw or lightly sprinkle hay as the lowest layer. On top of this, add a lightweight layer of brown material like old leaves or newspaper scrapings. Both these layers provide aeration for your compost pile. From here, add a layer of green material. Continue growing your pile by alternating layers: brown, green, brown, green. (Besides our recommendations, you can mix anything from 3 parts brown to 1 part green to ½ and ½). Sprinkle each layer with a small amount of water as you add them.
4.) TURN YOUR COMPOST PILE WEEKLY
You can turn compost in many different ways. Many simply use a rake or pitchfork and mix their compost around within their bin as best they can. Lane Forest Products recommends creating a second compost bin and simply moving the entire pile from one bin to another. The act of moving the pile from one place to another creates aeration, encouraging aerobic decomposition. This will leave your compost pile decomposing faster and smelling better. When it is time to turn the pile again, simply move your pile back to the original bin.
You need to turn your compost at least twice a month, but we recommend turning it once every a week to encourage faster decomposition. The more you turn the pile, the faster it will decompose.
Add green materials if your pile is too dry and add brown materials if the pile is too wet. If you are still introducing compostable matter into your pile, take the opportunity to add new ingredients immediately before beginning the turning process.
5.) HARVEST YOUR COMPOST
If all has gone accordingly to plan, you will soon find that you have a layer of usable, organic compost at the bottom of your bin. Do not remove your compost early as it will rob the soil of nitrogen as it continues to break down. If you think it’s not quite there yet, allow your compost more time. (Use your hands, a mesh screen or a pitchfork to remove larger chunks that have yet to break down. It’s always a good idea to wear gloves for protection – Lane Forest has good and inexpensive gloves at all of our kiosks).
Fresh compost can be used as a mulch, soil, fertilizer and/or soil amendment. New compost can even grow plants. Most commonly, gardeners use compost as mulch and fertilizer, using it to top off plants, mix in their soils or feed to injured plants.
For those in the Oregon area, the Oregon State University: Extension Service offers a wide variety of classes on composting. Click here for the 2015 OSU Extension Service composting class schedule.
Perhaps best of all, if hard work isn’t in your future, leave it to us!