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Soil and Composting: What can you NOT compost?

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Forum: Soil and CompostingReplies: 53, Views: 489
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jlp222
Hammond, LA
(Zone 8b)

March 20, 2012
2:39 PM

Post #9050460

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

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

March 22, 2012
12:27 PM

Post #9052947

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.

postmandug

postmandug
Bardstown, KY
(Zone 6a)

March 23, 2012
7:12 AM

Post #9053821

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

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

March 23, 2012
5:45 PM

Post #9054504

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.

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

March 27, 2012
5:31 AM

Post #9058792

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?"

postmandug

postmandug
Bardstown, KY
(Zone 6a)

March 27, 2012
6:42 AM

Post #9058885

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

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

March 27, 2012
10:08 AM

Post #9059155

ROFL

Gymgirl

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

March 27, 2012
11:39 AM

Post #9059252

ROTFLMBO!!!
jlp222
Hammond, LA
(Zone 8b)

March 27, 2012
3:13 PM

Post #9059536

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

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

March 28, 2012
10:40 AM

Post #9060461

Newspaper is OK.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

March 29, 2012
8:00 PM

Post #9062650

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.

bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

March 30, 2012
3:49 AM

Post #9062827

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

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

March 30, 2012
7:41 AM

Post #9063022

Nice idea Belle! Make pulp!

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

March 30, 2012
3:47 PM

Post #9063556

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.
luciee
Hanceville, AL
(Zone 7a)

April 4, 2012
10:09 AM

Post #9069605

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

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

April 4, 2012
11:13 AM

Post #9069684

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

HoneybeeNC

HoneybeeNC
Charlotte, NC
(Zone 7b)

April 4, 2012
12:11 PM

Post #9069748

If you run over dry leaves with a mower several times, then wet them, earthworms will turn them into rich, dark, soil.
luciee
Hanceville, AL
(Zone 7a)

April 4, 2012
7:03 PM

Post #9070235

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 {;^))

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

April 4, 2012
7:19 PM

Post #9070255

People vary as to how 'finished' they feel compost must be before various uses.
Sarah321
Milton, NH

April 14, 2012
7:38 PM

Post #9082793

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.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

April 16, 2012
6:55 PM

Post #9085430

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".
HopeSue
Laingsburg, MI

May 7, 2012
6:04 PM

Post #9114751

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

May 7, 2012
6:09 PM

Post #9114759

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?
pirl
(Arlene) Southold, NY
(Zone 7a)

May 8, 2012
5:49 AM

Post #9115252

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?

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

May 8, 2012
5:50 AM

Post #9115253

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.
HopeSue
Laingsburg, MI

May 8, 2012
6:58 PM

Post #9116462

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.

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

May 9, 2012
10:33 AM

Post #9117299

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.
HopeSue
Laingsburg, MI

May 12, 2012
12:21 PM

Post #9121095

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?
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

May 12, 2012
6:28 PM

Post #9121415

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

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

May 13, 2012
6:24 PM

Post #9122561

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.
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

May 29, 2012
9:44 PM

Post #9144269

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
Click an image for an enlarged view.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

May 30, 2012
6:48 PM

Post #9145435

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!
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

May 30, 2012
7:16 PM

Post #9145467

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!

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

May 30, 2012
7:30 PM

Post #9145495

>> 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!

desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

May 31, 2012
10:03 AM

Post #9146195

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

postmandug

postmandug
Bardstown, KY
(Zone 6a)

June 1, 2012
7:25 AM

Post #9147489

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

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

June 1, 2012
10:33 AM

Post #9147718

Chopping those fall leaves really helps them rot- congrats
nutsaboutnature
Algonquin, IL
(Zone 5a)

June 1, 2012
12:39 PM

Post #9147862

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.
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

June 1, 2012
2:44 PM

Post #9148068

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

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

June 1, 2012
3:48 PM

Post #9148159

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?

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

June 1, 2012
5:43 PM

Post #9148307

What can you NOT compost?

Nuclear power plants ...

Al

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

June 1, 2012
5:57 PM

Post #9148322

But they do make a hot pile!

postmandug

postmandug
Bardstown, KY
(Zone 6a)

June 2, 2012
6:16 AM

Post #9148715

Al, you're on the wrong thread!!! This isn't about homemade soil mixes for containers!
Corey, they were all brown leaves from oaks, hickories and maples and it was only about 4 months total.

Doug

sallyg

sallyg
Anne Arundel,, MD
(Zone 7b)

June 2, 2012
7:08 AM

Post #9148814

hot pile rofl!!!! wrong thread rofl again

Rain and snow bring some N.

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

June 2, 2012
11:34 AM

Post #9149147

I'm on the right thread - unless making an attempt to squeeze a grin out of folks isn't allowed.

Al
desert_witch
Lucerne Valley, CA
(Zone 8a)

June 2, 2012
11:40 AM

Post #9149160

roflmao

tapla

tapla
Bay City, MI
(Zone 6a)

June 2, 2012
11:50 AM

Post #9149177

... and who said anything about homemade soils? Did I miss something?

Hava good weeknd.

Thumbnail by tapla
Click the image for an enlarged view.

postmandug

postmandug
Bardstown, KY
(Zone 6a)

June 3, 2012
4:40 AM

Post #9149957

Just picking at you Al...Believe me I really enjoy your posts, very informative.

Doug
HopeSue
Laingsburg, MI

April 5, 2013
6:55 AM

Post #9472551

What about discarded flower seeds? Also I drilled about 12 one-inch holes in a
39-gallon black garbage container to create compost. Should I leave off the lid? I'm very excited that my DH has finally given me the green light. He was convinced that compost equalled stench.
Seedfork
Enterprise, AL
(Zone 8b)

April 5, 2013
8:05 AM

Post #9472623

I would keep the lid on. I don't know what you will be putting in your compost container to create compost, but you might even want to find a way to tie or weight the lid down. By keeping the lid on you can control the moisture level and keep critters out! If you don't have the mix correct it will also help control that stench DH was concerned about.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

April 5, 2013
3:40 PM

Post #9472990

My theory is that it only smells "earthy" unless you go overboard in one of the ways below.

Kitchen scraps LOOK yuccky unless you cover them over, but "balance" keeps them from smelling bad.

1. Much too much nitrogen (manure, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps)

Solve that by adding more "browns" like shredded paper, dry leaves, dry garden trimmings or sawdust.
Excessive browns don't smell bad, they just cook slower.


2. Not-enough-air (or too-much-water)

Usually caused by too much water or packed-too-tight or piled-too-high.
Cured by keeping excess rain off and turning more often or spreading apart a little.

Spreading it apart keeps it from heating up. Better (if you can) to keep one big heap 4'x4'x4', but somehow air can still get in.

If you can mix in something that keeps it "fluffed up", like twigs, you're golden. But then you have to pick the twigs out or screen the compost before using it. If your pile is mostly manure or finely ground coffee grounds, packed-too-tight is hard to avoid. Maybe a whole layer of m ostly shredded paper will form a big air channel until the gorunds wash into it and clog it up. Then turn it with a spade or a spading fork (pitchfork).

If you can drill "air holes" into the heart of the pile, you're a Graduate Level composter. For example, push a length of rebar or steel pipe down from the top, deep into the pile, then "swizzle" it around. Or hammer it in sideways, then jiggle up-down and back-and-forth.

If you had too-much-Nitrogen and not enough air, then you add some browns and let the air in, the pile may start cooking really fast and make enough heat in the center that you can feel it. Now you're killing weed seeds and plant disease spores, and can claim your Compost PhD. A hot pile is a badge of distinction.
pirl
(Arlene) Southold, NY
(Zone 7a)

April 5, 2013
4:50 PM

Post #9473052

Rick - you're 100% right on all points. Our 6 bins have no smell.

Thumbnail by pirl
Click the image for an enlarged view.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

April 5, 2013
5:16 PM

Post #9473073

Those are really nice looking bins! Do the boards come off one side to make shoveling or turning easier? Or can you shovel out of the bottom?

You must have a lot of stuff to feed them. Looks like you have, what, 7-8 cubic yards?

(envy envy envy!)
pirl
(Arlene) Southold, NY
(Zone 7a)

April 5, 2013
5:50 PM

Post #9473118

Thanks! The boards lift up at the front. Jack knows the numbers better than I do but I think your guess is very close. He made the ones on the right in '92 and the "new" ones about 8 years later. The new ones are a foot deeper - a good idea at the time but as we age they are more difficult to turn.

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