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How to Start Organic Garden Composting

recycling kitchen waste

Organic Garden Composting

Organic composting can be started simply without costing a great deal of money. Starting an organic compost pile just takes a little research of the types of green and brown materials to use.


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Gardeners learning to compost are told to add leaves for brown material. A high desert gardener might ask, “What leaves?” High desert areas have a great amount of the materials listed in the not-to-use list below. In that case, there are other brown materials that can be substituted.

Green Material

  • Grass Clippings
  • Fresh Weeds and Plants
  • Vegetable Scraps
  • Annual and Perennial Plant Trimmings
  • Chicken, Cow and Horse Manure
  • Eggshells
  • Annual Weeds Not Seeded Yet
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Tea Leaves
  • Flowers and Cuttings (chop woody stems)
  • Urine
garden composting

Strawberry Waste Composting

Brown Material

  • Fall Leaves
  • Pine Needles
  • Twigs
  • Dryer Lint
  • Cardboard Egg Cartons
  • Shrub Prunings
  • Wood  Chips
  • Hay
  • Straw
  • Newspaper (not glossy or colored inks)
  • Corn Cobs or Stalks
  • Fruit Waste
  • Peanut Shells

Materials Not to Use

  • Oleanders
  • Juniper, Acacia, Cypress, Eucalyptus (contain acids which are toxic)
  • Invasive Weeds
  • Diseased Plants
  • Wood Ashes
  • Thorny Plants
  • Meats
  • Bones
  • Dairy
  • Oils and grease
  • Glossy newspaper
  • Cactus Plants

A ratio of fifty percent green and fifty percent brown works fine. However, three to four parts brown to one part green is ideal. Combining the correct ratio of green and brown materials is important.

The greens are the nitrogen content, fresh and moist. The dry browns are the carbon content. Too much carbon will slow down decomposition, and too much nitrogen will make a stinky compost pile.

How to Compost

  1. Start pile on dirt, or add dirt to bottom of pile if putting into a container (for good organisms like worms). Compost or potting soil you have on hand works, too.
  2. Add twigs, leaves or straw next (for drainage and circulating air).
  3. Add grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, or any of the green material.
  4. Put water on the pile, about once or twice weekly. If it starts smelling bad, there may be too much water or green material.
  5. Cover. Use a large plastic bag and wood boards to hold it in place, or use anything that will hold the moisture in.
  6. Mix the compost two or three times weekly with a pitchfork which will add oxygen.

Combining the steps above with the perfect ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials can have a compost pile ready to use in about three weeks. If the simple method of turning with a pitchfork seems too much work or too slow of a process, shop for an easy-to-turn compost bin.

Recycling yard and kitchen waste is good for plants and the soil. Clay soils drain better. Sandy soils retain water. In addition, you save money by not having to buy compost at the garden center.


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