Composting Chart

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The following is a chart listing common composting materials

Type of Material Use it? Carbon/ Nitrogen Details
Vegetables and veggie peels Yes Nitrogen Great source of nitrogen. Bury in compost pile.
Leaves (trees and bushes) Yes Carbon May contain materials bad for plants.
Ashes from untreated, unpainted wood Careful Neutral Fine amounts at most. Can make the pile too alkaline and suppress
composting.
Fruit and fruit peels Yes Nitrogen great source of nitrogen. Bury within compost pile.
Bird droppings Careful Nitrogen May contain weed seeds or disease organisms.
Cardboard Yes Carbon Shred into small pieces if you use it. Wetting it makes it easier
to tear. If you have a lot, consider recycling instead.
Cat droppings or cat litter No n/a May contain disease organisms. Avoid.
Coffee ground and filters Yes N Great souce of nitrogen for your composter, add the grounds and the filter. Worms love coffee grounds and coffee filters.
Compost activator Not required, but ok. Neutral You don’t really need it, but it doesn’t hurt.
Cornstalks, corn cobs Yes Carbon Best if shredded and mixed well with nitrogen rich materials.
Diseased plants Careful Nitrogen If your pile doesn’t get hot enough, it might not kill the organisms,
so be careful. Let it cure several months, and don’t use resulting
compost near the type of plant that was diseased.
Dog droppings No n/a Avoid.
Dryer lint Yes Carbon Compost away! Moistening helps.
Eggshells Yes O Break down slowly. Crushing shells helps.
Fish scraps No n/a Can attract rodents and cause a stinky pile.
Beverages, kitchen rinse water Yes Neutral Good to moisten the middle of the pile. Don’t over-moisten the
pile.
Hair Yes Nitrogen Scatter so it isn’t in clumps.
Lime No n/a Can kill composting action. Avoid.
Manure (horse, cow, pig, sheep, goat, chicken, rabbit) Yes Nitrogen Great source of nitrogen. Mix with carbon rich materials so it
breaks down better.
Meat, fat, grease, oils, bones No n/a Avoid.
Milk, cheese, yogurt Careful Neutral Not recommended. Put it deep in the pile to avoid attracting animals.
Newspaper Yes Carbon Shred it so it breaks down easier. It is easy to add
too much newspaper, so recycle instead if you have a lot.
Don’t add slick colored pages.
Ashes from coal or charcoal No n/a Shredding leaves helps them break down faster.They decompose slower without shreding. Acidic.
Sawdust and wood shavings (untreated wood) Yes Carbon You’ll need a lot of nitrogen materials to make up for the high
carbon content. Don’t use too much, and don’t use treated woods.
Pine needles and cones Yes Carbon Don’t overload the pile. Also acidic and decomposes slowly.
Weeds Careful Nitrogen Dry them out on the pavement, then add later.
Sod Careful Nitrogen Make sure the pile is hot enough, so grass doesn’t continue
growing.
Algae, seaweed and lake moss Yes Nitrogen Good nutrient source.

{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

Debbie Acebo April 28, 2010 at 11:26 am

Is composting pineapple okay to put in the pile if it is cut up? Is it like lime?

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C. Haase March 3, 2016 at 3:23 am

One thing I noticed a lot of people are advocating using dryer sheets on here… Keep in mind dryer sheets are typically treated with an anti-static agent known as QACs that are also used as PESTICIDES… I’d keep away if you’re trying to stay organic!

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Nancy O'Brien April 29, 2010 at 11:16 am

Is it OK to put citrus rinds in the composter? I was told not to put orange rinds in a worm bin, but what about outside?

Is it OK to put used tissues in a composter or worm bin? Does it matter if the paper was bleached?

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steve May 19, 2010 at 4:50 pm

@Nancy O’Brien,

Yes, you can compost citrus rinds as well as use them in your worm bin, try to chop them up as best possible.
Yes, you can compost tissue and paper that is bleached will not harm anything, using it in the worm bin is fine as well. I regularly add a sheet or two of newsprint to my worm bin and they love it, just make sure any paper added is moist and shredded.

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Jane June 9, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Does treated – dyed hair have any value to a composting pile? Thanks

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steve June 10, 2011 at 11:45 am

@Jane, I doubt it, spread it in the lawn for the birds, it will add some color for their nests!

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Kathy July 9, 2011 at 5:05 pm

I use loose tea to make hot and iced tea. Can that and the used coffee filters that I use making the tea go in the compost pile?

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steve July 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm

@Kathy, Yes, tea and coffee ground as well as the filters can all go in the compost pile. It may take a little longer for the filters to break down but they eventually will. I throw mine in all the time.

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trina August 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

We started our composting for the first time. Started out we used grass clipping, spend flowers and fruit and vegetable peelings also added dried cow manure and dirt. Did we goof up when I added tomato pieces with their seeds and squash pieces. Also, can we add cooked vegetables to our compost pile. Thanks for your help.

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steve August 12, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Trina, It sounds like you know what you are doing, that’s a good mix. Yes, the seeds might cause you a problem but most likely you will be fine, the heat will likely kill the seeds. Yes, you can add cooked vegetables; make sure you bury it deep in the pile to help cut down on attracting critters or flies.

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Dave August 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm

How about avocado seeds? For that matter any larger fruit seed/pits?
Thank you in advance- great website.

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steve August 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm

@Dave, Any large item, like a large seed (avocado seeds), pine cone, etc, should be chopped or shredded. If not it will take far too long to break down.

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Jean Claude Decelis August 27, 2011 at 7:53 am

Is it safe to touch the compost pile while it is composting, as in can you get sick?
How do I know when the compost is “ready” ?
Thanks

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steve August 29, 2011 at 12:58 pm

@Jean Claude Decelis, Yes, your compost is safe to touch. Typically finished compost looks a lot like light dirt when finished and has good earthy smell. Depending on what you used in your pile you may need to sift out the twigs and other items that may have collected. I good sieve is always helpful. http://www.cleanairgardening.com/sieve.html

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Jean Claude August 30, 2011 at 12:54 pm

How long does it take for the pile to be ready, typically? I live in hot and humid Malta. and those the size of a pile matter?

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steve September 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm

@Jean Claude, There is no absolute timing with composting. If the pile is turned once a week, kept as moist as a well rung out sponge and has a good mix of 75% browns and 25% greens it should break down completely in 2 to 4 mths. However if you don’t keep up with it, it will take much longer. Yes, the size of the compost pile can affect the speed in which it breaks down, but keep in mind the larger the pile the more time and work to turn it. Keeping it roughly 4 ft x 4 ft x 3 ft is more manageable. Or you can keep it in a compost bin or compost tumbler, which range in size from 30 to 100’s of gallons.

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Lisa October 2, 2011 at 2:37 am

Hi Steve,
I am brand spankin’ new to this whole gardening and composting thing. A few days ago I started a pile with grass clippings, loose leaf tea, and a few veggie trimmings from tonight’s dinner. I should have read your Q&A first, because I live in Boise Id and it’s about to get pretty darn cold. id I start this too early? I’m wondering if what I have in there will be weird and gross staying in the bin all winter. I have on of those big black ones that’s on a steel stand that I can spin. Also, couple other questions…
1. I follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle now, which is to say I cook a lot of basmati rice – is this okay to throw in there?
2. Do I need to buy worms or will they just show up?
3. I’m worried it will get all stinky – what should good compost smell like?
I’m so grateful to have found your website! Thanks.
Lisa

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steve October 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

@Lisa, If you’re using a tumbling composter on a stand there is no need to add worms. Just make sure you add more browns than greens. If you don’t have enough browns, i.e. leaves, dried grass, etc then you may want to switch to vermicomposting, which is composting with worms. This will allow you to focus more on using your kitchen scraps. When vermicomposting you need a different style bin. You can make one out of plastic bins or buy one online. I would avoid adding the rice to either style that is going to cause a mess.

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janet May 15, 2012 at 3:34 am

I have a worm compost bin and add cooked leftover rice about once a week. they seem to like it. they also like cooked garbanzo beans.

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steve May 16, 2012 at 2:17 pm

@janet, Awesome, great to know and thanks for sharing, I’ll have to give that a try and add it to my worm bin the next time I have leftover rice or garbanzo beans

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Jack Hammer October 3, 2011 at 9:08 am

I have a new compost heap and i think it’s awesome. Sometimes I just go out and sit in the compost heap and cover myself in it. I feel like i grow and extra 6 inches at least. Now I can slam dunk the basketball hoop. I am thinking about trying out for the Harlem Globetrotters this season but Im not black and i think this will harm my chances. What do you think Steve?
Compost is tops!

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steve October 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm

@Jack Hammer, Add more coffee grounds to your compost for better results. Good luck!

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Natasha McManus November 21, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Hi Steve,

I am new to composting and have couple of questions. I am using a compost bin. Can I compost bread and cooked grains – like rice, millet, buckwheat and oatmeal? Thanks!

Natasha

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steve November 30, 2011 at 12:43 pm

@Natasha McManus, Not the best idea, you will likely get maggots and weevils, its best to leave breads, grains, meats, bones and dairy out of your compost bin.

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Gabe December 12, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Steve,

This past weekend while turning my pile of compost I noticed some very healthy grub worms. Is this a good sign or should I rid them of the composter and leave the goods for the red worms??

Thanks, great site!

Gabe

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steve December 13, 2011 at 8:19 pm

@Gabe, Its likely the grubs you are talking about are ok, and will not cause a problem in your compost bin. However, if they’re the grubs that will turn to the Japanese beetle, they eat your grass roots and can kill your lawn. Do they look like the grubs on this link? http://web.ncf.ca/bf250/grubs.html
Here is another non-toxic way to rid your bin and lawn of these pests: http://www.cleanairgardening.com/milkyspore.html

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Stephen Walker December 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Howdy from Texas!
Found lots of useful information here like the whole dryer lint thing. I work at a hotel and have boat loads of newspaper, coffee grounds, apples from the breakfast bar and now lint! I noticed not to use too much newspaper though. Is that because too much is bad for the compost or is recycling the more environmentally responsible thing to do? Thanks for all the info, great site!

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steve December 20, 2011 at 4:39 pm

@Stephen Walker, Sounds like you have lots of great material to use, and yes, newspaper makes great material to add to a composter. Make sure you tear it up so it breaks down faster. Also, make sure you moisten the newspaper in your composter as well.

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roy January 4, 2012 at 3:01 am

I have mostly shredded leaves in my compost pile. when I turn the leaves can I sprinkle in some urea which is 46% nitrogen?

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steve January 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm

@roy, Good idea, especially for those of you with no source of nitrogen. Also, if you have lots of leaves and no source of nitrogen, coffee grounds work well.

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Soraya January 27, 2012 at 12:33 am

I started my compost bin about 3 weeks ago, been adding lot’s of “Browns” and “Greens”. I had read from another source that wood ash would be okay, so I added some when I cleaned out my fireplace, now I have been reading it can cause the compost to become too alkaline. What can I do to get the pH were it needs to be now? Thanks for all the useful information! Happy composting

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steve January 31, 2012 at 4:36 pm

@Soraya, Assuming you did not add more than a few pounds of ash you will be fine, it will adjust itself over time, just keep adding browns and greens, keep moist and well aerated. If you think you added way to much ash, try adding some sphagnum peat, it will bring it down.

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meg February 7, 2012 at 2:04 am

hello!
i just put my 2 spin bin composters together & cant wait to transfer my piles from trash cans to the spinbins. just curious though,i no i shouldnt put dog waste in the bins,but you mention dryer sheets & mine are usually loaded with dog hair.is this ok for my compost?

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steve February 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

@meg, No, adding dog waste is not a good idea. If you start a worm bin you can add dog waste but do not use the worm castings in the garden, just on your lawn and plants. Yes, dryer sheets are fine and the dog hair to, it just may take a little longer to break down but it will not harm anything.

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Steve F March 4, 2012 at 7:50 am

I have just purchased my first compost bin and I am Planning to just compost the waste from my chickens , Chicken poo , Straw , Pine Shavings and tissue , Do i need to add anything else or will this compost down. I could add shredded newspaper as well and possibly the stalks from the cabbages that i hang up in the run (Uncooked)
Thank You

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steve March 6, 2012 at 2:17 pm

@Steve F, Yes, all of those ingredients should compost well together. Make sure you keep it moist and well aerated. If you notice it clumping up this usually means you have too much nitrogen so add some carbon, i.e. more shredded newspaper, etc.

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Katie April 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

What a great guide!

A couple questions:
A couple weeks ago I raked up some leaves and grass from my yard, and it’s just been sitting in a pile, I haven’t gotten rid of it yet. Can I use this in my compost?
When putting in banana, orange or apple peels, should you always cut them up? What about apple cores? Can you use those?
I often see rabbit poop in my yard- can I just pick that up and add it to my compost?

THanks!!!

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steve April 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

@Katie, Yes, go ahead and use the pile of leaves and grass clippings, typically this is the main source of material for the average compost bin. As for kitchen scraps, like banana peels, orange peels, apple peels and apple cores, those work great in a compost bin and chopping them up will help them break down quicker it’s not necessary. Don’t go overboard with orange peels or any other citrus peels but a few every now and then are fine. As for the rabbit poop, yes you can add it to your compost bin. It’s only a bad idea to add cat poop or animals waste that are carnivores.

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Renée April 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I am just starting a compost bin for the first time today. I’m making it out of a plastic bin, and I have plenty of greens and browns, but I’m wondering If I have to have a top for my bin. Will this speed up the composting? Or affect it in some way?
Thanks

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steve April 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm

@Rene, Yes a cover for your compost bin will be helpful, you can use a plastic bag or tarp if you don’t have the actual lid. This will help trap the heat and keep it from getting over watered if it rains. Make sure you drill or cut plenty of ventilation holes on the sides and drill holes in the bottom to drain the water.

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Prafulla Patil April 23, 2012 at 1:16 am

Can anybody tell me how to do composting for society wet garbage disposal having 100 flats.
1) What should be pitsize?
2) which chemicals or organisms to be used?
3) How much period required for composting?
4) what is regular practice adopted in societies?

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Roy x April 26, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I’m new to composting and found this site very interesting and helpful, I have a compost bin with a top lid and started composting three weeks ago, I’ve been adding the basic greens and browns almost every day to create some volume, I have been mixing the materials every two days without removing the contents and apparently the not finished compost seems to be warm to hot status, so my question is are the fumes released from the materials breaking down dangerous if inhaled? I have a small avocado tree next to the compost bin and I believe the fumes released are affecting the leaves by turning them brown, thanks in advance.

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steve April 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm

@Roy x, I am not aware of any harmful fumes that are released from compost bins, but if you think it’s the culprit then I suggest moving the compost bin.

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Chip May 7, 2012 at 9:06 am

Thanks for the valuable insights. I’m about to make a ~2.5’x2.5’x3′ composting box (4 levels; beehive style) out of wood, with a lid. Will using treated lumber hurt the composted material coming out of it? Will the wood last longer, than pine? Or should I use something like cedar?
Living in the Mid-Atlantic, is this something I can keep working over the winter?

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steve May 7, 2012 at 6:26 pm

@Chip, Yes, there is a chance the pressure treated wood could leach into the compost; I think cedar is your best bet. It may cost a little more initially but your compost bin will last longer.

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william May 12, 2012 at 2:36 am

does a 1,4 mix of black burt saw dust called black char along with grass cliping horse manure turning black a little straw and hardwood saw dust turning dark and ground up leaves be good combo for compost mix ,,for flowers and gardens.

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steve May 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

@william, Yes, that sounds like a great mix, let us know how the first batch turns out.

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Chip May 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Steve,
thank you for your insights.

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greta June 25, 2012 at 6:39 pm

can I use chopped up rushes in my compost heap?

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steve July 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

@greta, Yes you can use chopped up rushes in your compost pile.

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Michael July 14, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Is it alright to put banana peels into your compost pile?

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steve July 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm

@Michael, Yes adding banana peels to your compost bin is a great source of nitrogen.

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Michael July 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Hi Steve,

Thank you for your response. Appreciate it very much and it has been very helpful to me.

Best regards,
Michael

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Monica July 19, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Are breads and cereals from the kitchen good composting material? If so, are they considered carbon or nitrogen?

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steve July 20, 2012 at 5:25 pm

@Monica, Breads and cereals will likely attract things like maggots so you can compost them but try to keep it less than 5% of what you add to your bin. Breads and cereals would be considered a carbon.

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Pat July 25, 2012 at 12:58 pm

I accidentally got some dairy products (cream) into my compost and it is now ‘turned in’ Do I have to start over? will it eventually work out?

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steve July 27, 2012 at 2:38 pm

@Pat, Yes, your compost will likely be fine. It may stink from the cream going sour but it will eventually go away, adding a fair amount of water will likely help.

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Susan August 5, 2012 at 2:05 am

I snack on sunflower seeds and always have lots of shells left, can I put them in my bin? Same for unsalted peanuts or even pecan or walnut shells? Thanks for any answer you may have.

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steve August 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm

@Susan, Yes you can add both sunflower and peanut shells to your compost. Keep in mind you can help them break down quicker if they are in smaller pieces, so you may want to break them up more or smash them up.

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les August 17, 2012 at 5:41 am

Am confused by a couple of replys–stated without verification. The first is on dog droppings (2/10/12) which puzzles me as over the years I have used droppings (big dogs) as fertilizer on tomatoes and bushes with great results–no known bad ones. The other is on carnivore droppings (4/9/12)–why? It seems that any waste that fertilizes should be compostable. I am not an expert agronomist–just curious.

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steve August 24, 2012 at 1:47 pm

@les, If composting animal waste works for you, great! Some people are just more cautious than other when dealing with animal waste.

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Barb A-B August 23, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Steve, I used horse manure as part of my original composting base. I assume I got some sort of small (1 1/4 inch long) grub worms from the manure. They multiplied and eventually I had thousands of these worms which devour the composting materials very rapidly.

I don’t know what these grubs are because they are larger than the black soldier fly. Could they be horse fly larva?

I don’t know if these worms may harm my veggies or not, so I am hesitant to use the compost. I won’t worry about them if they are not harmful. If they are harmful to plants, is there a way to kill them without affecting the nutritional value of the compost?

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steve August 24, 2012 at 1:54 pm

@Barb A-B, It’s possible the grubs are beneficial so maybe take them to your county extension office and see if someone there can identify them as harmful or not. Then they may also be able to suggest ways to kill them if they are harmful.

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Skip September 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Steve, We’ve been composting in San Diego for a couple of years & are thrilled to have stumbled across your web-site.
Regarding tree leaves: My sister collects bushels of dried leaves from her Carrot Wood tree…can we safely use it’s crunched up leaves leaves in the compost? Besides bugging you, is there any way we can tell besides seeing if it kills the vegitable garden?

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steve September 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm

@Skip, Carrot wood trees are fairly invasive and the seeds are very likely mixed with the leaves. Unless you are able to get your compost really hot, like over 140 degrees you are not likely to kill them. I suggest not using them unless you are not worried about spreading them.

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Jean September 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I have about a gallon of flax seeds that have been in my freezer for about 2 years and are probably past their prime. Can I compost all of them, or some of them?

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steve September 17, 2012 at 2:42 pm

@Jean, I see no reason why you can’t compost the flax seed that has been in the freezer for a few years.

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Karen September 19, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Can you add broken pecan shells to the compost bin?

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steve September 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm

@Karen, Yes, you can compost pecan shells, however keep in mind they will take longer to break down than most other items put in your compost pile or bin. Break up the pecan shells as much as possible to help speed up the process.

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matt March 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Hey Steve, I was wondering if you could help me out. I am new to composting. I have been saving all the food scraps but then when my pot is full I have been digging a hole in the ground in my yard and just burying it. Is this just wasting the food scraps? Also, I haven’t been adding enough brown matter. You said that pine needles can be used? I heard pine needles were really bad for soil, is this not true? Also, and most importantly, I have cows living near the house so I went and collected a few pounds of their droppings and buried it with some food scraps and a little bit of dry matter but not much. Is this a problem? Do I need to buy/make a container to compost properly? My next-door neighbour just bought a container and started vermicomposting. Can I add the cow droppings to that mixed with the pine needles? I read that you need to pre-compost it first but im not quite sure what that means. Can I dig up the cow droppings I buried a week ago and use that? Please let me know if you have any insight, thanks

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Terry September 5, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Thanks! Just getting started with a composer and need all the help I can get. The first try was as pile in the yard and was a disaster.

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PETER October 12, 2015 at 1:25 pm

myt hought was as bannana has high pottasium prehaps its compost is pottasium rich aswell & therefor good 4 a plant food for flowering time ,I knw cumfreys good 4 nitrogen phospherus ER? prehaps decomposing woodland material ?N E way id like to knw if bannanas r good for pottasium rich plant food or not

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Dennis Chastain February 6, 2016 at 8:23 pm

About how long should it take a whole banana to disappear when added inside an 85° half finished plle. Just a range will be appreciared.

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bruce February 8, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Dryer lint: do you have to avoid polyester or synthetic blends as well as dryer sheets/fabric softeners?

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Michael Sculthorp-Wright February 27, 2016 at 9:39 pm

Good evening from the UK.
I live in Cornwall over looking Mounts Bay. During the winter storms we have vast amounts of sea weed washed up on the beach. I compost in a Council supplied plastic compost bin, plenty of ventilation and lided. We compost all of the normal garden and household waste also chicken dropings and straw.. How much sea weed do you think we could use. I know untill recent years farmers collected the sea weed to spread on their fields. Thanks for all the info on this site.

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Leslie March 25, 2016 at 8:57 pm

Wow,what great information. My friend got me started on composting kitchen items, so now my next stage is transferring into a bin. Can I use a plastic bin until I find an air raited turning one. Also, I have many fire pits with my family and have a lot of burnt boxes, ashes ext. from my fire pit. My other question is can I use the ashes from the fire pit in the compost. Thanks Leslie

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