When starting down the road on your composting journey, it is very important to choose the right combination and ratio of your compost ingredients when making compost. Yes, decomposition naturally happens all around us, but we can control it to some degree in our own composting efforts by making sure we select a good ratio of organic matter.
Organic materials that you can add to your first batch of compost come in two general categories. The first category is called “Browns” and are known as our carbon rich organic materials. They can include things such as woody bush and plant trimmings, dried leaves, all sorts of paper products such as newspapers and paper towels, sawdust, pine needles, and straw.
The other category of organic matter is known as “Greens”. Greens are nitrogen rich organic matter and they can include organic materials such as coffee grounds, coffee ground filters, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, tea, tea bags, nut shells, still or moldy bread products, fruit rinds and quarters, fruit pits, eggshells, cut flowers and vegetation, corncobs, and more. In this green category you can also consider manure, fur, feathers, and hair as green nitrogen sources as well.
The key to mixing up a great batch of compost is getting the right ratio of carbon to nitrogen correct. The little critters known as microorganisms who are the decomposing stars, need both nitrogen and carbon rich materials to complete their jobs. The majority of these microorganisms need more carbon rich materials than they need nitrogen rich materials and this need works out to be about a 30 to 1 ratio.
What this means is your batch of ingredients needs to be about three parts carbon to one part nitrogen organic matter. Now, the actual nitrogen and carbon content in various organic matter varies. Meaning, some “Browns” contain more carbon than other Browns. The same thing goes for your Greens. Some “Greens” contain more nitrogen than other Greens. Ideally, blending both nitrogen and carbon organic ingredients in the lower ranges is a good starting point. We have put together a chart below that shows how much nitrogen is contained in the common Greens and how much Carbon is contained in the common Browns.
One other thing to consider when starting your first batch is knowing which ingredients you should not throw in to your batch or any aerobic composting batch.
Chemically Treated Wood Products: Do not add any sawdust or wood chips from any pressure-treated wood or chemically treated wood.
Wood Ashes: Wood ashes can be tricky as they contain alkaline. Depending on where you live in the United States depends on whether or not you should add any type of wood ashes. If you live in the western and southwestern United States you would not want to add wood ashes as your soil are ready has a high alkalinity to it. But, if you live where the soils are acidic, a small amount of wood ashes would not hurt. I just assume avoided unless you know for sure what type of soil you have!
Feces: Your waste from your pet friends such as cats, dogs, cat litter, pigs, birds, and humans may contain little critters called parasites. These little critters can be transferable to humans and infectious to humans and therefore should be avoided in your composting ingredients.
Charcoal Ashes: your barbecue bricks contain sulfur oxides and other chemicals that you do not want to transfer to your lush garden and therefore you should avoid adding needs to your composting ingredients.
Dairy Products, fats, oils, grease, meet, and bones: this selection of organic matter actually turns very “rotten” or rancid and smelly and should therefore be avoided in your composting ingredients. Also, if you want to have all your neighborhood dogs, cats, rats, and raccoons after your composting ingredients, this is a sure way to attract them!
What about weeds? There is a way to construct a “hot compost pile” that will thermogenically kill all weed seeds so that you can include them in your composting ingredients, but it is a complete skill that you will need to learn to do and is called hot composting which is not covered in this article! Therefore, to keep things simple for those of you are just beginning to compost, keep weeds and weed seed heads out of your composting batch!
Now that you know what should go into your batch as far as compost ingredients goes, visit our post on how to construct and add your composting pile ingredients! Also, you may want to visit our posts on compost tumblers, such as the Envirocycle Composter and the Tumbleweed Composter, to determine if you will mix your first batch of compost using a tumbler!