What to Compost

You’ve got your compost bin all ready, you’ve placed in on a well drained spot in your garden and you’re ready to start recycling naturally and making great nutrient rich compost for your garden and vegetable patch.

You’ll probably be tempted to throw everything into the compost pile, but there are certain materials you should use and only in certain quantities, these work together to break down the materials and turn them into that dark, crumbling compost you plants need with that wonderful earthy compost smell.

Basically the materials you need are broken down into two groups, your green nitrogen materials and your brown carbon materials.


Green Nitrogen Materials

Green nitrogen materials are rich in amino acids, proteins and they help the materials decompose quickly and effectively.

These materials include items such as:

  • Vegetable scraps
  • Fruit
  • Manure
  • Grass Cuttings
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Seaweed
  • Hedge Trimmings
  • Plant cuttings

Vegetable Scraps (Ratio 12:1)

Your vegetable scraps will include all your fruit and vegetables from banana peels and potato peelings to apple cores and uncooked vegetables. Generally it’s not a good idea to add cooked vegetables to your pile, but if you want to make sure they weren’t cooked in oil and then use a sealed plastic compost bin. Cooked vegetables tend to attract small animals and rodents.

Grass Cuttings (Ratio 20:1)

You need to be careful with grass cuttings as they have a very high nitrogen content so be sure to use them sparingly. Grass cuttings are best left on the lawn where they can decompose naturally offering the soil all the nutrients they need.

If you decide to add grass cuttings to your compost pile, add a thin layer over a brown carbon layer and make sure they are very well mixed in.

Fresh Manure

There are a number of different manures you can use on your compost pile, they help heat the pile. The ratios differ depending on the type of manure you are using, normally you would add:


  • Poultry – ratio 7:1
  • Sheep – ratio 16:1
  • Horse – ratio 22:1
  • Cow – ratio 18:1

Don’t add fresh manure to your plants, it should always be composted first, and never use pet manure from dogs, cats or pigs. Also human manure is not something that should ever be added to your compost pile.

Coffee Grounds (Ratio 20:1)

Coffee grounds help heat up your compost. If you use a paper filter, thrown the whole thing into the pile. Often you are able to get grounds from your local coffee shop free of charge, ask them to keep some for you.

Seaweed (Ratio 19:1)

Seaweed is rich in nutrients and if you are lucky enough to live by the sea and collect as much seaweed as you want, take advantage of this. Most people give the seaweed a rinse before adding it to their compost just to remove any excess salt.

Plants and Plant Cuttings (Ratio 30:1)

Any plant or hedge trimmings can be added to your compost is sure to never add diseased plants, but other than that cut them up and add them in.


Brown Carbon Materials

Brown carbon materials are a fantastic source of energy and are so useful when making compost.

Leaves (Ratio 50-80:1)

Dead leaves, such as autumn leaves that have fallen to the ground are a wonderful source of brown carbon material, while green leaves are a green nitrogen material, so bear this in mind when collecting dead leaves for your compost pile.

It’s always a good idea to shred leaves before adding. Another thing you need to know when you want to know what to compost is doing add walnut leaves, these stop plant growth. Other leaves you should try and stay away from are oak leaves, which are very acidic and take a long time to break down and waxy leaves such as rose, pine, holly and laurel, which all take a very long time to decompose.

Hay (Ratio 15:1)

Hay is a wonderful additional to any compost pile, if you can get some hay take advantage of it.

Straw (Ratio 80:1)

Straw offers double the amount of carbon as hay does, but it does decompose slowly. Straw is perfect if you have clay soil at home, adding straw to your compost pile can really help plants thrive in clay soil areas.

Paper and Cardboard (Ratio 150-200:1)

Add any paper or cardboard that isn’t from a glossy magazine or contains too much color. Add old newspapers, tissues and paper towel and make sure all your paper and cardboard is shredded thoroughly.

Egg Shells

Egg shells are a great source of calcium. Always crush the egg shells before adding to the pile as they do take long to break down, don’t ever add the whole egg, you only want the shells.

Tea Bags

It doesn’t matter what type of tea you drink you can throw your tea leaves or the whole tea bag into the pile.

Sawdust (Ratio 400:1)

Sawdust is very slow to break down, so only use it in very thin layers and mix it very well. Always make sure that the sawdust you use is from non-treated and non-painted wood.

Wood Ash (Ratio 28:1)

Wood ash is filled with calcium and potassium, but it’s also high in alkaline, so only use sparingly. Don’t include any ash from charcoal briquettes or commercially produced fire logs which contain petroleum.


What You Should Never Add

When learning what to compost it’s always a good idea to know which ingredients you should never add. While some ingredients to avoid may seem obvious, it’s very easy to get excited when putting your first compost pile together. Make sure your whole family knows what waste to recycle and what waste will still need to head off to the landfill.

It’s really important you never add any meat and bones, poultry or fish or any fatty foods. Whole eggs, dairy products, weeds, pretreated wood and human or pet manure are also not allowed on your new compost pile.

Pet and human manure can carry disease and you’re trying to make a natural organic compost pile that will offer natural fertilizer for your plants, so adding something that is diseased defeats the purpose. Ask a local farmer if you can have some of their sheep or cow manure for your pile.

Also be sure to never include any inorganic garbage, metal, glass, plastic or ceramics. You want to recycle naturally and make a wonderful, nutrient rich and natural fertilizer for your garden.


How to Compost

Now that you know what to compost, do you know how to compost? There are two methods to composting, the first is the Indore Method which takes time but requires the minimal amount of effort on your side.

For the Indore method you will add thirty parts of brown carbon materials to one part of green nitrogen material. Starting with a brown carbon layer, generously add a layer of carbon and then a layer of nitrogen. Keep alternating the two until you reach the top. Mix them well and leave to stand. Some people give each layer a slight spray of water to help the decomposition process. Turn the pile every ten to fourteen days until your compost is dark, crumbly and smells earthy.

Once you’ve finished leave it to stand for a couple of months to ensure the decomposition process is finished before adding to your garden.


The Berkeley Method is a fast compost method which enables you to enjoy great compost within fourteen to twenty one days but does require some time from yourself. Start by mixing an equal amount of brown carbon to green nitrogen and mix them well, turn the pile every two days for about two weeks and you should have great compost. The trick to this method is the bigger your compost piles the faster you can enjoy new compost. Smaller compost bins aren’t the right thing to use, as these generally take a lot longer to decompose.

Ideally you need a three foot by three foot compost bin and when you turn, turn from the bottom up, so the materials at the bottom can move to the warm middle to start breaking down. Once the temperature of your compost drops to below one hundred degrees Fahrenheit it is ready to use.


Is My Compost Ready?

After learning what to compost and how to compost, you need to be sure your compost is ready for use. Compost should be dark, crumble easily in your hand and smell like soil.

Compost that is partly finished can be dangerous to plants. As it’s still breaking down it remains very hot, burning stems and roots. It also is still drawing nitrogen, which means it will draw all the nitrogen out of the soil, leaving you with weak stemmed plants, plants that stop growing or have yellow leaves.