Compost like a Pro

There are many reasons why someone may be curious about composting. They may be on their own journey towards Zero Waste. They may be avid gardeners interested in helping their plants thrive. Whatever your reason, I urge you to brush up on the ins and outs of creating a healthy compost pile. This page will help you determine if something can be added to your compost, aid you in creating a system of your own & assist you in figuring out how to keep your compost before bringing it outside.

There are two choices you need to make; how to store your scraps & how to let them rot. The first choice is easy; run the scraps right out, freeze, or collect in a countertop pail. Our family uses this pail. Commercial pails have an efficient filter to keep the stink at bay & to avoid bugs; we’ve never had a problem!

The second choice you need to make is by far the most important; how will you create your compost? If you want to reduce your waste but can’t commit to creating compost, some farmers will accept scraps from the public. Ready to commit? There are four styles I like to recommend: Stack Composting, Worm Bins, Compost Tumblers & Row Composting.

Stack Composting & Worm Bins are both fantastic choices for apartment dwellers & smaller living. Worm Bins can be maintained in a garage or closet, while Stack Composting can be extremely discrete alongside a back porch. We’re currently renting a townhouse & we’re using the DIY Stack Composting approach. To Stack, the idea is to add scraps to the top unit until full. Once full, move the top unit to the bottom, then start adding compost to the next unit. Your compost will fester & brew while you fill the next two units. purchase or DIY a Stack Composter. If you choose to use worms, the idea is to feed your scraps to your slimy little pets then use their poo (“castings”) to improve your soil. purchase or DIY a Worm Bin.

The later two systems are better suited for homes with space & larger gardens. Compost Tumblers take the work out of composting & are movable if your family is renting a home without HOA (the nemesis of composting). The theory is simple – add scraps & rotate! Over time your tumbler will evolve into a well aired compost supply. purchase or DIY a Compost Tumbler. Lastly we have Row Composting. This beauty is best suited for a home with space & permanence. The bins are horizontal & the goal is to fill one bay at a time, leaving scraps to rot for up to three years before using the compost. These structures can be built smaller & more temporary if needed. purchase or DIY / DIY a Row Composter.

The following list is a compilation of foods & materials which are compost safe. Logic puts most unprocessed foods & natural goods within this group. If in doubt, leave it out if you rely heavily on your crops or share your compost with someone who does.

  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Old Spices & Herbs
  • Breads
  • Coffee Grounds & Loose Tea
  • Crushed Eggshells & Nutshells
  • Toilet Paper Tubes
  • Newspapers
  • Brown Paper Bags
  • Feathers
  • Dead Bugs
  • Wood Chips & Sawdust
  • Lawn Trimmings
  • Flower Arrangements & Plant Cuttings
  • Human & Pet Hair
  • Nail Clippings

This group is primarily toxic, chemical or plastic. Never compost anything vaguely on this list! Any toxins you add will eventually be sucked up by your plants or leeched into the soil.

  • Oils & Fats
  • Produce Stickers
  • Takeout Containers
  • Thermal Receipt Paper
  • Glossy & Colored Paper
  • Weeds & Diseased Plants
  • Coal & Charcoal Ash
This list is up to you & your unique home or crop. What you choose to grow, who you protect in your home & what you surround yourself with will determine if you add or reject any of these materials. If you’re contributing to a community compost, avoid these materials as you can’t predict how the compost will be used.

  • Compostable Goods
    Many goods advertised as compostable will only rot under extreme heat, unachievable in a backyard system. Luckily, many (but not all) towns have public compost centers. Contact the manufacturer to see if a center is needed to compost your goods.
  • Meat & Bones
    Cooked bones can harm curious animals. Meat will attract wildlife & pets.
  • Rhubarb Leaves
    Raw rhubarb leaves are poisonous to both children & animals. Only compost your scraps if you trust that your family & pets are kept far from your pile.
  • Teabags
    Most teabags are coated with plastic. If I need doubt, contact the company. Rumi, Traditional Medicinals & Yogi are all safe to compost.
  • Vacuum Cleaner Contents
    Because vacuum cleaners pick up more than just dirt, only compost your contents if you can be sure that they are all natural materials, such as a rice explosion or a popcorn fiasco. Don’t compost glass or plastics.
  • Dryer Lint
    Only compost your dryer lint if your clothing & sheets are made of natural fibers. Most clothing is at least partially made of synthetic materials, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be composting your dryer lint.
  • Citrus Peels & Pine Needles
    Citrus & Pine add acid to your compost pile. Add in moderation & know that adding too many may alter the ph of your resulting compost, great for some crops (like blueberries) but harmful to many others.
  • Animal Waste
    Herbivore waste is okay (rabbits, horses, etc) however waste from animals who eat meat (dogs, cats) should be avoided in your main compost pile. If you choose to compost waste from animals who are omnivores or carnivores, never use this compost on gardens you will eat from.