In your backyard compost, you can include a variety of organic materials. Green materials like kitchen scraps (fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags), fresh lawn clippings, and plant trimmings provide essential nitrogen. Brown materials, contributing carbon, include dry leaves, straw, wood chips, and shredded paper or cardboard. Eggshells, nutshells, and hair are also compostable. It’s important to balance these greens and browns to maintain a healthy compost system. However, avoid composting meat, dairy, oils, diseased plants, and pet wastes, as they can create odor problems and attract pests.

Diving deeper into the world of composting, you’ll discover not only the dos and don’ts but also the surprising benefits each type of compostable material brings to your garden’s ecosystem.

We’ll explore how to optimize your compost pile’s balance, turning everyday waste into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, commonly referred to as black gold. This journey will take you through practical tips and creative ways to enhance the efficiency of your backyard compost, ensuring a fruitful and sustainable contribution to both your garden and the environment.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Backyard Composting

Understanding the Basics of Composting

  • Composting is the natural process of recycling organic matter, such as leaves and food scraps, into a valuable soil amendment. It’s an essential part of reducing household waste and enhancing garden soil.

The Benefits of Composting in Your Backyard

  • Composting enriches the soil, helps retain moisture, suppresses plant diseases and pests, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, and lowers your carbon footprint by reducing methane emissions from landfills.

Key Principles of Effective Composting

  • Successful composting involves balancing ‘green’ nitrogen-rich materials with ‘brown’ carbon-rich materials, maintaining proper moisture levels, and ensuring adequate air circulation.

Green Materials for Your Compost

Types of Green Materials

  • Kitchen scraps (vegetable peels, fruit waste, coffee grounds), fresh grass clippings, and plant trimmings. These materials are rich in nitrogen and are essential for rapid compost microbial growth.

The Role of Green Materials in Composting

  • Greens provide the necessary proteins and amino acids for the microbes that break down the waste in your compost pile.

Tips for Collecting and Adding Green Materials

  • Store kitchen scraps in a small container in your kitchen before adding them to the compost pile. Avoid adding meat, dairy, or oily foods to prevent odors and pests.

Brown Materials for Your Compost

Identifying Brown Materials

  • Examples include dry leaves, straw, wood chips, shredded paper, and cardboard. These materials are high in carbon and provide the microbes in your compost with energy.

Balancing Browns with Greens in Your Compost Pile

  • A general guideline is to have a mix of about 2-3 parts browns to 1 part greens by volume. This balance helps maintain the compost’s moisture level and air circulation.

How to Store and Manage Brown Materials

  • Collect and store extra brown materials, like leaves in the fall, to use throughout the year. Keeping them dry and accessible will make it easier to maintain your compost pile.

Items You Should Never Compost

Hazardous and Non-Compostable Items

  • Avoid composting meat, dairy products, oils, diseased plants, pet wastes, and any treated wood or paper with heavy inks or chemicals.

Common Mistakes in Choosing Compost Materials

  • One common mistake is adding glossy paper or colored paper, which can contain harmful chemicals. Another is composting diseased or insect-infested plant material, which can spread problems to other plants.

Understanding Why Some Items Can’t Be Composted

  • Certain items like meat or dairy products can create odor problems and attract pests, while diseased plants and pet waste can introduce pathogens into your compost and garden.

Composting Yard Waste Effectively

Types of Yard Waste You Can Compost

  • Include grass clippings, leaves, branches (shredded or chipped), and plant trimmings. Avoid composting weeds that have gone to seed or diseased plants.

Preparing Yard Waste for Composting

  • Shred or chop larger waste to accelerate decomposition. Grass clippings should be added in thin layers to prevent matting.

Seasonal Considerations in Yard Waste Composting

  • In the fall, you’ll have an abundance of leaves, which are great as brown material. In the spring and summer, focus more on green materials like grass clippings and plant trimmings.

Kitchen Waste and Composting

What Kitchen Scraps Can Be Composted

  • Most vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, and bread products are perfect for composting. These items add necessary nitrogen to your compost pile.

Precautions with Composting Certain Kitchen Wastes

  • Avoid composting meat, dairy, and oily foods as they can attract pests and produce odors. Cooked food scraps should also generally be excluded unless you’re using a specialized composting method.

Managing Smell and Pests in Kitchen Waste Composting

  • Regularly cover new kitchen waste with browns like leaves or straw to minimize odors. A well-balanced compost should not emit strong odors. Secure the compost bin lid to keep pests out.

Other Uncommon Items You Can Compost

Surprising Compostable Items

  • Hair and fur, natural fibers (like cotton or wool rags), paper towels, vacuum cleaner dust, and even crushed eggshells can be composted. These items provide a diverse range of nutrients and structure to the compost pile.

Special Considerations for Uncommon Compostables

  • Avoid anything treated with chemicals or non-organic materials. For example, only compost natural-fiber textiles that haven’t been chemically treated.

Maximizing the Benefits of These Materials

  • These diverse materials can improve the overall structure of the compost, helping to maintain aeration and moisture balance, which are key to successful decomposition.

Maintaining a Healthy Compost Balance

The Importance of Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratio

  • A balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio (C:N ratio) is crucial for efficient composting. The ideal ratio is about 30:1, carbon to nitrogen. Too much nitrogen leads to a smelly, wet pile, while too much carbon slows down the composting process.

Techniques for Maintaining Balance in Your Compost Pile

  • Regularly add a mix of greens and browns, turn your compost pile to introduce oxygen, and monitor the moisture level. Adjust the materials as needed to maintain balance.

Troubleshooting Common Compost Problems

  • If your compost is too wet, add browns; if it’s too dry, add greens or water. A well-balanced compost should be moist like a wrung-out sponge and should not have a foul smell.

Composting in Different Seasons

Adjusting Your Composting Practices for Seasons

  • In the summer, compost tends to dry out faster, requiring more frequent watering. In the winter, composting slows down, but you can insulate your pile to retain heat.

Seasonal Tips for Optimal Compost Health

  • In fall, add fallen leaves (browns) to balance the greens from your kitchen. In spring, increase green materials like grass clippings as your garden becomes more active.

Managing Your Compost Pile in Extreme Weather Conditions

  • In very hot or cold conditions, pay extra attention to your compost pile. In hot weather, ensure it doesn’t dry out; in cold weather, consider covering it or adding more insulating browns to keep it active.

Turning Kitchen and Yard Waste into Black Gold

From Waste to Nutrient-Rich Compost

  • Through the action of microorganisms, organic waste undergoes decomposition, transforming into a nutrient-dense, earth-like material that greatly enhances soil quality.

Applying Your Compost in the Garden

  • Utilize your ready compost by enriching garden beds, tree bases, or mixing with potting soil. It serves as an organic fertilizer, boosting the health, moisture capacity, and growth of plants.

The Joys and Benefits of Composting at Home

  • Engaging in backyard composting not only yields a valuable soil supplement but also fosters a sense of pride and plays a key role in promoting a lifestyle focused on sustainability and waste reduction.

FAQs on What can I Compost in my Backyard

Q: Can I compost paper towels and napkins?
Yes, you can compost paper towels and napkins as long as they haven’t been used with chemicals or cleaning agents. They are considered brown materials and help balance the compost.

Q: Is it safe to compost citrus peels and onions?
Yes, you can compost citrus peels and onions, but in moderation. Large amounts can affect the compost’s pH balance and potentially repel earthworms due to their strong acidity and scent.

Q: Can I add ashes from my fireplace to the compost?
Yes, but sparingly. Wood ash can be a good source of potassium and lime, but too much can make the compost too alkaline. Never use coal ash as it can contain harmful substances.

Q: How do I compost large branches or woody prunings?
Large branches and woody prunings should be chipped or shredded before adding to your compost. Larger pieces take a long time to break down, so shredding them speeds up the process.

Q: Can I compost bread and pasta?
Bread and pasta can be composted, but they should be added in small amounts to avoid attracting pests. They can also create mold issues, so it’s best to bury them deep within the compost pile.

Q: Are egg cartons and toilet paper rolls compostable?
Yes, egg cartons and toilet paper rolls, particularly those made from cardboard, are compostable. They should be shredded or torn into smaller pieces for faster decomposition.

Q: Can I use compost that’s not fully decomposed?
Partially decomposed compost can be used as a mulch, but it’s best to let it fully decompose before mixing it into your garden soil, as unfinished compost can rob nitrogen from the soil as it continues to break down.

Q: How do I know if my compost is too acidic and how can I fix it?
If your compost is too acidic, you may notice a sour smell or that it’s not breaking down properly. To neutralize the pH, add more brown materials like leaves or straw, and reduce the amount of acidic green materials.