A 2-Minute Composting Primer

composting at home

Perfecting the art of composting can be tricky, but it’s essential to the health of your garden. Compost adds beneficial microbes to the soil and provides the highest nutrition for your garden plants.

Composting is an essential part of organic gardening. It’s the ultimate recycling of all those grass clippings, food waste, and yard waste. It adds organic matter to your soil which nourishes the soil food web.

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What Do You Put In Your Compost Bin?

Many years ago, the standard ingredients for garden compost and fertilizing farm fields were horse manure and straw. This combination created outstanding soil, but offered some challenges in nutrients, depending on the animal’s feed. It also introduced tons of weed seeds. But it was a perfect balance of “browns” and “greens” for composting: high-carbon “brown” materials (straw) and high-nitrogen “green” materials (manure). Both are required in sufficient quantity to create compost.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not worms feeding from the bottom of the pile that creates compost – it’s bacteria and fungi. And just like you and me, microorganisms need food to go about their business. In composting, food is plentiful when your browns and greens have the optimal carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1. This ratio helps to “cook” or heat up the pile quickly with bacterial and fungal activity to speed the decay.

Getting the right combination of greens and browns might be a little tricky at first, but with a little experimentation, you’ll get your compost pile cooking. You’ll know when your greens are too high because the pile will smell like garbage. More likely, you’ll have the opposite problem – your pile will cook too slowly. But that’s okay because the ingredients will break down eventually. There’s even a thing called “cold composting” where you just throw everything into a pile in an out-of-the-way place and let it do its thing. Underneath the pile the following year, you’ll find rich compost. Nature takes care of itself.

Use a combination of “brown” and “green” ingredients in your compost bin:

  • shredded tree leaves
  • newspaper (black and white only)
  • brown paper bags (shredded)
  • non-glossy white paper plates
  • plain brown cardboard (non-coated)
  • wood ashes
  • used tea bags and tea leaves
  • paper coffee filters


  • table scraps
  • yard waste (tree prunings, weeds, dead plants, etc.)
  • grass clippings (no lawn treatments or pesticides)
  • vacuum cleaner wastes
  • corn stalks and sunflower stalks
  • pet or human hair
  • coffee grounds
  • composted manures