Composting can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be!

The first step in setting up a successful compost system (and the only step we’ll cover here) is knowing what you can put in your pile. You might be familiar with some of the no-nos: meat, bones, dairy, fat, and garbage. And you might have heard that you’ll need to use the right ratio of “browns” (high-carbon items) to “greens” (materials that are high in nitrogen).

So, what materials get a “yes”? Which are brown, and which are green? Here’s a short list to get you started:

Material | Brown/Green | Info/Instructions

Yes! Cotton clothing can also be composted. Cut it into small pieces for faster decomposition,

  • Fruit & vegetable scraps | Green | Add with dry carbon items to avoid smells
  • Coffee grounds & tea leaves | Green | Filters & bags (which are brown) may also be included
  • Eggshells | Green(ish) | Best when crushed
  • Fresh grass clippings | Green | Add small amounts in thin layers so they don’t mat/clump
  • Dry leaves | Brown | Leaves break down faster when shredded or chopped
  • Lawn & garden weeds | Green | Only use weeds which have not gone to seed
  • Plant trimmings | Green/Brown | Use them fresh for green, or dried for brown
  • Straw or hay | Brown | Straw is best; hay (which has seeds) is less ideal
  • Fresh comfrey leaves | Green | Excellent compost “activator”
  • Pine needles | Brown | Acidic; use in small to moderate amounts
  • Flowers, cuttings | Green | Chop up long woody stems (which break down slowly)
  • Seaweed and kelp | Green | Rinse first; good source for trace minerals
  • Wood ash | Brown | Only use ash from clean materials; sprinkle lightly
  • Chicken & other manures | Green | Excellent compost ‘activator’; DO NOT use cat or dog doo
  • Shredded (news)paper | Brown | Avoid using glossy paper and colored inks
  • Cardboard | Brown | Shred material to avoid matting
  • Corn cobs and stalks & sunflower stems | Brown | Slow to decompose; best if chopped up
  • Dryer lint | Brown | Use only if the lint is from natural fibers
  • Sawdust & wood chips | Brown | High carbon levels; add in layers to avoid clumping