What are the best composting materials you can use?

Composting Materials - What Materials Are Best?

What materials can I use in compost?  This is a question we get all the time when teaching people how to compost.    Whether it’s for growing tomatoes or a rose garden, compost is one of the best organic fertilizers you can use.

We cover list of organic materials that you can use in your compost pile, and those you should avoid.

You also might find this article helpful:

What Materials Should I Use to Make Compost?

Below is 42 easy composting materials you can use in your compost pile!  This list is definitely not comprehensive.  Depending upon your circumstance, some of these compost materials should not be used, such as if you are in an area prone to wildlife.

Mostly what materials to use will depend upon what you have on hand. Some materials will be easier to gather and stockpile than others.  If you have a lawn and a few trees, then grass clippings and leaves will be your go-to compost materials.   The greater the diversity of compost materials you add to your compost pile, the better the final compost quality.

What Can Go in a Compost Pile - Compost Materials

We divide the compost materials into two main categories: Green Materials and Brown Materials. This is all part of composting 101.

Green Composting Materials

What materials can I compost - list of green composting materials

Green materials are what heats up a compost pile and keep the pile hot for decomposition via hot composting method. It’s the best method to use if you want compost fast and for your compost to be weed and disease free.

High Nitrogen Material

The green composting materials is further divided into two subcategories, with different purposes: High Nitrogen & Green.

Those materials with a narrow carbon to nitrogen ratio really get the compost pile heated up quickly. It’s used to “get the party started”. We call them High Nitrogen materials, since they are compost materials that have a higher concentration of nitrogen. 

Green Compost Material

Green compost materials have a slightly less concentration of nitrogen, but still are used to keep the compost pile hot. It’s our composting bacteria that are responsible for composting (the decomposition of the organic material).

If you are not willing or able to actively monitor and turn the compost pile then use the high nitrogen materials sparingly (<10% of all the material). These get the composting operations started fast!

High Nitrogen Materials

  1. Blood Meal (C:N of 8:1)
  2. Alfalfa (C:N of 10:1)
  3. Horse Manure (C:N of 20:1)
  4. Chicken Manure (C:N of 10:1)
  5. Goat/Sheep/Llama Manure (C:N of 20:1)
  6. Grain Seeds (C:N of 8:1)
  7. Soybeans or other Nitrogen Fixing Plant (C:N 10:1)
  8. Meat: (C:N 5:1-8:1)
  9. Fish/crab/lobster waste (C:N of 4:1)
  10. Spent brewery waste (C:N of 10:1)

These heat up the pile.

Green Compost Materials

  1. Fresh cut grass
  2. Green weeds (pulled while still alive)
  3. Vegetable stems, leaves and roots post-harvest, pulled but still alive
  4. House plant trimmings
  5. Fruit
  6. Hay
  7. Wool
  8. Hedge trimmings
  9. Cranberry wastes
  10. Corn silage
  11. Seaweed
  12. Cooked rice
  13. Cooked pasta

These keep the compost pile hot.

Brown Composting Materials

Brown material in a composting pile is essential to make compost best for trees and shrubs

The brown composting materials area often called “Carbon” materials, since they have a wide carbon to nitrogen ratio.

It’s our composting fungi that work to break down these materials and compost made with
leaves or other brown materials are great for trees and shrubs.

Use more brown materials in your bin if you are going to use the compost for trees and shrubs.

Best Brown Materials

  • Dead leaves
  • Weeds cut after they are dead
  • Vegetables stems, leaves and roots pulled after they are dead
  • Cardboard
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Paper (not colored)
  • Wood chips
  • Straw
  • Woody parts of trees/shrubs/
  • Stalks
  • Sawmill waste
  • Rice hulls
  • Pine needles (fallen, but must grind them first)
  • Bark
  • Spent coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters
  • Nut shells, ground or broken
  • Pressed paper egg cartons
  • Used napkins

What Compost Materials to Avoid?

If you live in an area with a lot of critters such as raccoons and bears that you are concerned with getting into your compost pile, then avoid food scraps and meats. Save the food scraps for a worm bin that you can secure inside a garage.

  • Avoid all meats (attract critters)
  • Avoid bones (slow to decompose)
  • Avoid fats (attract critters)
  • Avoid oranges and other tough rinds
  • Avoid corn cobs (slow to decompose)
  •  Avoid eucalyptus leaves
  • Avoid black walnuts & leaves
  • Avoid whole pine needles & pine cones
  •  Avoid cedar and redwood

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