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What can you NOT compost?

Hammond, LA(Zone 8b)

I looked under the sticky, and didn't see anything about this. I know some things (meat, cheese, fatty food) can't be composted, but are there any other rules? I am mainly asking about food scraps, but if there are any other big "no-no's" I would love to know about them.

Thanks, Jennifer

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

To add to your list: I would not put Burmuda grass, large amounts of dry leaves, large twigs, bones, salted food or salted water in the compost.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Well, large amounts of dry leaves are OK if you want to wait 4-5 years to harvest the pile!!! I've done that before and it was some of the best compost I ever had.

Doug

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I have a tiny heap, but it doesn't mind or get stinky if I put small amounts of cut-up meat into the center, and mix it in.

it didn;t even attract cats or squirrels, and those are the only pests I have in an urban area.

But I was carefull not to add much meat. Just uneaten wet cat food and some hot dogs that got much too old.

I agree that twigs don't belong in the same heap as fast-composting things! They can rot in thier own wood-pile for a few years first, or be chopped with a lawn mower AND rotted separately first, or made into the foundation of a "hugelculture" bed.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I think, for us devoted compost people, its not so much that there are absolute NO NOs, but that some things work more easily than others. Some of us are happy to cope with certain materials, with extra work or care they demand.

Some things are more likely to stink or gross you out.

Some are so slow they will annoy you.

Some will add weed traces, pests, or diseases, into your compost and then you will spread the problem WITH the compost.

Does that cover it? It might be easier to ask "I want to put ___ in my compost, but they say not to, what's the problem?"

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Yeah Sally, I remember a couple years ago I went down the road to get some horse manure from a neighbor. He said don't dig too deep, you might find a cat in there!

Doug

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

ROFL

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

ROTFLMBO!!!

Hammond, LA(Zone 8b)

I don't have much "brown" to add. Would newspaper be ok?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Newspaper is OK.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I'm about to tear up some old phone books.

Can I add clusters of pages, like 5-10 thick? (I'm guessing "bad idea")

Will I need to tear the pages into strips? I hope not. I mgiht expect to have to turn it more than monthly, since it might mat down and make spots anaerobic.

Virginia Beach, VA

Just soak the whole book in hot water for few days and it will help with faster decomposition.
Keep adding hot water as needed

Belle

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Nice idea Belle! Make pulp!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thanks, Belle!

Like tearing up corrugated cardboard, easier after a few days of soaking.
I'll "rake it in" with a cultivator or garden fork.

Hanceville, AL(Zone 7a)

How long does it take for oak leaves to break down? Luciee {;^)

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Would you like that in years or decades?
8^0

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

If you run over dry leaves with a mower several times, then wet them, earthworms will turn them into rich, dark, soil.

Hanceville, AL(Zone 7a)

Sallyg, that's funny!! Honeybee, we usually just run over them when they fall. I just wondered if anyone knew how long to wait before calling it compost. We have one oak, one elm, one maple and some pines. I just wondered about oak because they seem to hang around so long. Luciee {;^))

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

People vary as to how 'finished' they feel compost must be before various uses.

Milton, NH

Jlp222, here is what I've learned, some of it the hard way. Decomposing meat, fish, and eggs attract scavenger animals. Trust me, you do not want raccoons dismantling your pile. Also meat, fish and eggs are almost entirely nitrogenous, breaking down anaerobically, which means, putrifying. Horrible odor, neighbors and loved ones will complain. As a nurse I like to remind others that human, dog, and cat feces and urine can transmit harmful bacteria and viruses. Sawdust in a lump does nothing, mixed in well with greens, broke down faster than straw. Even with hot composting, straw took about 18 months in. Fresh twigs take years. A decaying log, crumbled easily. Wood ash, in appropriate proportion is okay but must be mixed thoroughly, otherwise salts form. I hope this helps.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I just spent a afternoon reducing a large pile of juniper and other branches and roots into a small pile of wood chips and dust, plus some stripped branches.

I picked out the big pieces, then walked a lawnmower back and forth over the branches and kept stirring it with a pick and raking it to bring the big pieces to the top. The chips are pretty small where I had time to do a good job!

I could screen it and re-chop the bigger pieces, but I might just compost it all and accept that I'll have some twigs in the final compost. But I don't wan't to wait long enough to reduce twigs to humus! So I must either screen them before composting or accpet a chunky end product. I would rather not have to screen the compost while it's cooking: don't want to hurt the worms.

I have a 1/2" screen, and a 1/4" screen but wish I had a 1" screen.
I also wish I had a 3/8" screen (or 1/3"), but then I like screens.

I've piled the branches where I hope park management won't notice them, until I can stomp them flatter and cover them with something that will help them hold water and rot. I was delighted to learn that there's even a name for that: "hugelculture".

Laingsburg, MI

So it is not a good idea to add clumps of grass raked out of a rototilled garden because of weed production?

Laingsburg, MI

How do you handle, say, horse manure? Do i want to dig down to the older stuff, or doesnt it matter? Are there preferable sources of manure?

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

The smaller the pieces of anything that you add to your compost pile, the faster it will turn into black gold.

I'd mix in the manure. Have you aged it?

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Clumps of grass- Just be aware that you will have weed seed in your compost. If you use the compost and then keep mulched for weed control, no prob.

Manure- dig in for old stuff if possible. Horse manure one of the more aesthetically easier to deal with, though some comes with hay or straw. Most now use sawdust as bedding and that makes a good texture.

Laingsburg, MI

I have a friend who would be happy for me to take some horse manure. She said I would have to dig down for the more aged stuff.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Great!
My most conveneint source for now is a large stable. I can only get fresh because about every other week, a truck comes from PA, takes the dumpster, and takes it to the mushroom farms for mushroom soil.

Laingsburg, MI

Do you mix the manure into your compost? By itself generally how long does horse manure take to degrade so it's safe to use?

Virginia Beach, VA

I had one experience with aged horse manure and I never did it again. My plants were healthy but my bed was loaded with weeds.!!

Never again!! Some gardeners might have a better experience.

Belle

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Belle, I honestly must say I have only started using this source last year, so its not fair if I claim that I don't get weeds from it.

Hopesue- 'They' usually say six months. Today I mixed some (small proportion) into my leaf compost from last fall, and topped that with dirt, and planted my squash plants on top.

Lucerne Valley, CA(Zone 8a)

I have a huge mess of a compost bin. I pretty much throw everything in with the exception of meats (and that is only because maggots gross me out and I'd just as soon not deal with the stink or the flies) I live in the desert, so don't have a lot of leaf material, but plenty of grasses and wild mustard and other brownish stuff, along with corn husks and kitchen veggie waste, coffee grounds and the cleanings from the bottoms of my 6 rescued parrot cages, newspaper and all. I used to run it all over with a mower, but then the mower crapped out, so I began tossing it all in and occasionally turning it under. (what I wouldn't give for a wood chipper/shredder) Mostly I let Mama Nature take her course, and when I want compost I peel back the top layer with a pitchfork and shovel it onto a frame covered with diamond hardware cloth to sift. Anything that doesn't go through I toss back into the bin.
I use a lot of horse manure because it's free for the shoveling. I have a friend who has a boarding facility for horses and she has soo much manure she has to spread it out on her desert property (big hills can get so hot they catch fire!) As long as I'm careful to get it well aged I have little trouble with weeds, but one year I blew it and I've been fighting a losing Bermuda grass battle in several beds ever since. My local feed store has offered me all the mixed manure I can shovel as well, so this year I'm going to start mixing fresh manure right into my compost. It's my experience that if it gets hot enough most of the weed seeds are killed.
Here's a photo of my crazy compost bin.

Thumbnail by desert_witch Thumbnail by desert_witch
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Great bin! I wish mine were as big.

I've been nursing two small piles, and plan ning the screen the "finished" one and toss the big chunks back in to the "younger pile".

But I think you have the better plan: one bigger heap, screen before using.

I used to think I had to compost everything until it "didn't look like what it started as", or was indistinguishable from rich soil.

Gradually, the people who bury garbage raw, or top-dress with completely un-composted stuff are convincing me that I can at least use "unfinished" stuff from my heap. I must have gotten old and set in my ways while I wasn't looking - it's hard to change a habit!

I have so many weeds everywhere already, that I'm not sure it could get worse by just failing to cook some new ones in my small heap. Of course, I don't currently import much from other yards that might have new and worse weeds!

Lucerne Valley, CA(Zone 8a)

Rick, sifted through the diamond hardware cloth all that gets through looks just like good earth and has that wonderful earthy scent. I don't know why you couldn't peel the top back as I do and shovel and sift from the bottom where it's all done and yummy garden goodness! =D
As for getting stuck in your ways... for a long time I was so intimidated by all of the compost do's and don't's I was afraid to even try. Eventually I figured if I just trusted Mother Nature to do her job I probably couldn't mess it up too bad. That outlook, along with a serious dose of the lazies, works for me!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> Eventually I figured if I just trusted Mother Nature to do her job I probably couldn't mess it up too bad. That outlook, along with a serious dose of the lazies, works for me!

Here, here! I was lucky to start composting at an age too young to look up the "right way". In fact, I had a pile of leaves and pine needles for some years before I knew I was "composting" them.

what would be the sorhtest possible set of "rules" for composting that would work?

- Make a big pile of stuff. Bigger IS better!
- Spray it often enough that it doesn't dry out all the way.
- try to get some green and some brown stuff into it.
- If it gets smelly or slimy, more browns.
- If you're impatient, stir it or muss it up every few weeks or months.

Actually, "Make a big pile" is most of the secret!

Lucerne Valley, CA(Zone 8a)

I agree wholeheartedly. On other threads about composting I generally don't weigh in. So many folks who work so hard seem to be SO offended by my simple method. Heehee!
My early adventures in composting were actually unknown to me as such. LOL. Before I began gardening I loved my houseplants, and had about 250 making a jungle of my porch. When I potted up and trimmed, I'd dump my used up potting soil and all the clippings into an empty potting soil bag, add a little water and twist tie it when it was full. I thought of this as "Revamping" my potting soil. When I began gardening on a larger scale, I remembered that and a lightbulb went on! LOL

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Last fall I chopped up most of my leaves with the mower/bagger and put them in one side of my compost bin with the intention of using it as mulch. Never turned it, never watered it, no greens added. About a week ago I got the manure fork out and loaded it into my garden trailer. The top was still quite intact chopped leaves, but underneath it had already decomposed into a beautiful mess of dark compost. Mulched my native plant area with it and it looks very good, plus the worms will eat it up and condition the soil. Effortless composting, that's the way I like it!!

Doug

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Chopping those fall leaves really helps them rot- congrats

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

My husband does a lot of woodworking. He has a "sawdust collector" that he attaches to his power tools. When the bag gets full he dumps it into giant plastic bags. Though I couldn't even begin to use all of it in my compost bin, I do like to layer it with grass clippings. The sawdust also keeps the grass from smelling as it decomposes. Some people complain that sawdust takes too long to break down, but it works beautifully for me and the resulting compost is rich and dark.

Just don't ever use Black Walnut in any form. Black Walnut has a natural compound that will kill other plants. Not something you really want to be putting on your garden.

I also empty my paper shredder into my compost bin.

Lucerne Valley, CA(Zone 8a)

All good stuff! I keep swearing I'm going to start shredding my junkmail... Just so many things to do!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Does anyone know if it is true that you can compost a mix as "lean" as 20:1 C:N? If true, a pile could be 95% sawdust and only 5% grasss clippings and still compost OK.

I guess Doug said pure leaves composted in 7 months, but I wonder if those were all-brown, or some green leaves?

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