Is shredded paper ok?

Milton, NH

I'm cleaning out my filing cabinet and shredding away when I got to thinking that all of it could be used for the brown material in my next compost pile. None of the papers are older than year 1992. Would the paper be to acidic? What about the ink?

Provo, UT(Zone 5a)

i think u would be just fine composting paper sarah..
many of us that vermiculture use newspaper in our bins..
i use newspaper as a mulch around my tomato plants ..around
2nd week of july when things have really warmed keep soil cooler
and help hold moisture in soil around the plants..
go for it... :)

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I use the shredded paper that I either recently received or that I printer with ink jet. I think that is fine. Old news print used to have something wrong, as I recall but I don't remember what. Now the print is soy based and is ok. I have had some trouble with the shredded paper matting together so now I immediately mix it well with the existing soil.

Wilmington, NC(Zone 8a)

We think alike! I'll take it a step further; we've got an outdoor bunny who sleeps in a hutch. I shred paper bags and use the shreddings as litter in his nesting box. After he soils it, it all gets thrown in the compost pile. Works great and he seems to enjoy fresh litter.

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Milton, NH

Thanks everyone, my mind is now at ease. My next concern ws over it matting up so I've gone ahead and started to mix in my kitchen veggy scraps, coffee grounds, wood ash, etc in a large trash can. As soon as the snow clears I can start to build it. Can't wait!

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

I don't know if wood ash is one of the "accepted" ingredients. Does anybody else have a comment? This is a compost pile not a vermicompost bin.


Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

One thing seemed to cure matting for me, though it causes other problems. Last fall I added thick hard plant stems without chopping them up. They crisscross and keep the pile from matting down very tight.

But it makes it hard to turn! I don;t really reccomend this, since the stems stick out of the pile and rot more slowly.

I think that, next fall, I'll go back to chopping them. Maybe only 8-10" long instead of as short as I had time and energy toi cut them.

But a few stiff stems tossed in with your shredded paper, like tossing a salad, may keep the papper from matting down tight until its digested. (But then you might have to pull the stems out and chop them shorter so they incororate better and decompose faster!

BTW, I mean stiff plant stems, not woody twigs. In my small pile, wood large enough see almost never decomposes.

I'm collecting woody branches and twigs in a separate pile until I decide whether to try to do hugelculture with small amounts of green sappy juniper branches, or chop it small with a lawn mower - i.e., sharpen the lawnmower blade!

Jacksonville, FL(Zone 9a)

Hi all, When it comes to the wood ash being used in the compostůMy thought would be that it's ok. I was reading an article about "lasagna gardening", and the wood ash was one of the ingredients listed that can be used as Lasagna mulch material. Sounds good to me! :-)

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Thank's Tim. I don't remember where I got the idea that wood ask would be harmful. Maybe it referred to the quantity of wood ash.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Many people advise aginst liming a compost heap. I think it encourages the loss of nitrogen as ammonia.

Maybe someone suggested out that too much wood ash would do the same thing in a lasgna layer???

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

I wish I could convince my hubby that shredded paper is okay for the garden, but I have never been able to do so. (sigh)

Milton, NH

I've used thin sprinklings of hard wood ash around my arborvitae and they were unharmed, seemed to like it.. And I've used wood ash in prior compost piles. The trick is to make sure its is thinly and thoroughy mixed throughout, not just dumped in a clump. Too thick and it turns to some kind of salt. So far I've been tossing the ash into my dry shredded paper and slowly turning in my veggy scraps. Nothing is wet yet. I've found a friendly neighbor who says I can have a wheelbarrow full of chicken manure. What a cocktail! Any predictions?

Jacksonville, FL(Zone 9a)

I could only dream of having a neighbor with chicken manure! My prediction would be YUMMY!!!! The garden would LOVE it! Take ALL you can get!!! I am SO jealous!!!!

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Sarah - be sure to age (compost) that chicken manure before using it, or it will kill your plants.

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

Shredder paper is EXCELLENT for the compost pile, however, CONFETTI Shred does not mat up like the long strips, which almost double in weight when wet. Those long strips make it hard to turn a mat of wet paper.

Confetti shred doesn't mat like that...^^_^^

Milton, NH

Thanks for all the tips about shredded paper and matting. I've got about 2/3 of a large trash barrel, but, and, gosh I'm so excited, I've got two large trash barrels of chicken manure! The manure is mixed with straw and sawdust. The weather is great this weekend so I'll be playing in the dirt, err, soil, I mean.

Milton, NH

Here's a pic of my pre-pile mixture of shredded paper and kitchen veggy scraps which I started back in the winter. Thanks for the tips about matting. I'm glad I never added any water. Only about the bottom eighth was matted, I broke it up working soil into it. However the mixture was already breaking down anaerobically. Pee-yew. I added chicken manure with straw & sawdust litter, and turned it all, which helped decreased the stench.

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Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Anything coarse like straw will help maintain aeration, and the "browns" like paper are bound to reduce the stink.

The downside of adding coarse things like small twigs to the pile is that they break down really slowly, and when the rest of your compost is ready to use, they are still sitting there whole and tough.

Maybe adding some coarse pine bark mulch would help keep it "open". Adding mulch to garden soil can't hurt. But it could be a little expensive: $3-4 for 2 cubic feet.

Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

Talking about chicken manure. When we first moved here the grove across the street from us 25 acres used to spread it on the groves right up next to the trees and I'm sure the processing plants let chicken parts go into it cause the smell would knock you out but the trees flourished. Now they use chicken manure to feed to cows and pigs. Not us. I told my husb. I'd quit eating our beef if he fed them that. Extension agent says its good for them. Bull. Our cows get the best of hay and pasture pellets made from grains. No growth hormones either. We have black angus beef growing in the back pasture and we eat one a year so I believe in good quality feed for them cause they feed us. Wish I knew someone that kept rabbits. Thats the best manure you can get. Doesn't burn plants even if you put it right up against a stem.
Happy composting all.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

mulched with cardboard,fiber cloth bags, filled with compost, and grass clippings over that.

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Milton, NH

nice pics juhur7. Thanks Bonnie. I do my best to eat only free ranging , organic, hormone free poultry, bison, beef, etc. Cows are vegetarians! Chickens not so much, but I know they don't eat cows, or pigs, or horses.

mid central, FL(Zone 9a)

just read a good article regarding the use of wood ash...there is a concern now with some heavy metals due to the uptake in the living wood. eventually the metals leach back out into the soil and then are taken up again by food plants.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Do you remember where the article was?

Thanks, Paul

mid central, FL(Zone 9a)

when i posted that, i couldn't remember where i'd read it but figured someone would ask so i had to review what i'd been reading lately! lol
here it is in its entirety from Vegetable Gardening for Dummies by Charlie Nardozzi (don't laugh):

"Proceed carefully: Using wood ashes as a fertilizer

Wood ashes are a source of potash and phosphate, although the exact amounts of these nutrients depend on the type of wood burned (hardwoods generally contain more nutrients than softwoods), the degree of combustion, and where the wood was stored (for example, dry storage prevents nutrient leaching). A general analysis is usually in the range of 0 % nitrogen, 1 to 2 % phosphate, and 4 to 10 % potash. But the major benefit of wood ashes is as a liming agent to raise the pH of the soil. Naturally, if you live in an area where soils are alkaline, don't use as a soil amendment; they raise the pH even higher.

Apply wood ashes to your soil in moderation (no more than 10 to 20 pounds per 1000 square feet of garden) because they may contain small amounts of heavy metals such as cadmium and copper. REMEMBER: These metals build up in plants if you add too much wood ash to the soil and can kill the plants---or harm you if you eat lots of those plants."

Milton, NH

Thanks trackinsand, that's good info about wood ash. I know we burn hard woods and the amount I've used is less than 10/1000.

Milton, NH

An update on my use of shredded office paper. With every turn of the pile, I noticed that any clumps of shredded paper were wet, but not decomposing. The pile got hot after every turn X 3. And the pile seemed to be getting heavier! I simply go tired of turning, so I just spread it out over the bed it was intended for. The composting continued to stay warm, about 90 degrees for about 5 days. At this stage very few clumps were noted. On one hand, I think the shredded paper worked, but only because I rigorously made sure the shreds were as evenly distributed as possible, and perhaps the shreds helped to hold moisture in. On the other hand, it was labor intensive. Really not the best material, but do able.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Sometimes I turn with a pitchfork, sometimes a shovel.

Sometimes I scrape off the dry outer layer with a steel rake or cultivator, then bury the dry chunky stuff.

I have only a small pile, maybe 3 feet tall at most.

The cultivator is best at mixing things up, but the shovel is best for forming a compact shape.

Say, does anyone know a good way to compost sod? That seems slowest to break down, after insufficiently chopped-up wood.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

What are you putting on your soil to compost? If leaves, maybe you should use your lawnmower with bag and shred piles of leaves, then dump on the soil.

Shredded trees or other shredded wood have decayed (after a year) on top of my soil (mostly red clay). Now, after rains, the earthworms are right under the surface which is nice black soil now. I call this process mulching, not composting but I thought this was what you were asking.

Whoops! Sorry Rick, I mis-read sod into soil. as they used to say on SNL, "never mind".

This message was edited Aug 19, 2012 8:50 AM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Yup, I compost in a heap, not underground, sheet-mulch or "lasagna". I guess I've become old-fashioned.

I WISH I had leaves to chop and compost!

I agree with you that wood chips or sawdust need to compost before being turned under, or they will steal nitrogen away from plant roots. (And I've had ugly fungusy masses when I turned too much wood under.)

I believe that this years' mulch can be next year's compost, but one yeqar is pretty fast for big chips to break down. Maybe you have active soil life and warm weather or a long summer? I always assumed that wood would need some green nitrogen source to break down fast, but it sounds unnecessary where you live.

... oh, you said SHREDDED wood. That makes sense. Big chunks slow, thin shreds fast. When I chopped up green juniper branchs with foliage, the fine wood shreds composted enough to use in 5-6 mionths. The thick wood is still in the heap, sneering at my efforts, not even softening yet.

After the chopping went slowly, I sharpened the lawnmower blade with an angle grinder.
The photos exagerate how much coarse stuff there was. It was as if the big pieces floated to the top.

This message was edited Aug 21, 2012 7:50 PM

Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA Thumbnail by RickCorey_WA
(Zone 4b)

Quote from RickCorey_WA :
I agree with you that wood chips or sawdust need to compost before being turned under, or they will steal nitrogen away from plant roots.

I am so unsure re the use of 'wood' in my composter. Specifically, I regularly mix clean wood shavings (not dust but the larger shavings) with my greens. Lately these greens have been lots and lots of my neighbour's grass clippings. But clearly wood shavings take (much) longer to fully breakdown. After several months of such composting I assume I could use the resulting material sprinkled around the base of my plants but how long and what would it need to look like to be able to use it as an actual planting medium?

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> but how long and what would it need to look like to be able to use it as an actual planting medium?

Mostly, I don't really know, but here comes a real long answer anyway!

I would wait, myself, until it was ALL limp and at least SOME was already mushy or turned to humus. I would guess that, when the thinnest parts of the shavings have crumbled away, the thickest part must be digested about that far in from the surface. And then the inner layers must be SOMEWHAT digested.

But my soil is poor, and I had one bad experience adding too much wood from a cheap and rip-off "soil conditioner" when I was even more ignorant. I thought "if it came in a bag, more must be better, and this is AWFUL soil". Now I don 't trust bags, especially from Home Depot.

Even if you don't need to worry about N defecit, too much raw wood in one spot seems to encourage fungus that sure LOOKS wierd and nasty, and seemed to make my bed hard to "wet". I don't know why, but it was ugly and grew nothing for about a year.

I think "how long" depends hugely on the thickness of the wood, how "hot" your pile is, and how much nitrogen the pile has. (And how N-rich your soil is, and how N-hungry your crop is.) Also, green wood will break down much slower than aged wood.

If your compost pile is big and hot and rich in greens, I would expect wood to compost faster. A cool pile, or a "brown", lean one, won't do much too wood in just a few months.

My compost pile is small and cool, so I plan for the visible wood chips to break down over a year or two (I screen out the black humus as I need it, and put big stuff back into the heap.) Sticks or stiff shavings are great for keeping a heap aerated, if you don't mind screening them out or waiting a year plus for them to break down.

OK, a "shaving" is much thinner than a "chip" or "stick". So it will break down "enoguh" faster. But I think a few months is ambitious unless you have a really hot pile and really hungry microbes with big teeth chomping down, to COMPOST the wood. "COMPOST" In the sense of "it all looks like black, crumbly humus indistinguishable from soil or peat".

However, you may not need that as long as the shavings are no longer nitrogen-magnets. How to tell that? I am only guessing now, but I would make a first guess by texture and color -
- stiff & white is not ready,
- limp & brownish but still visibly "wood" might be somewhat digested but still absorbing N
- falling apart or almost black sounds fully ready.

You might be able to jump the gun and still not starve your plants as long as you don't add TOO MUCH in one spot.

AND if your soil is very N-rich already, or you have lots of grass compost with relatively little wood compost. Or you fertilize frequently with high-N fertilizer withOUT burning roots!

(I think that is why people argue against burying sawdust and trying to balance the N deficit by adding soluble Nitrogen. It might be easy to shovel on "enough" N, but how do you avoid adding a toxic "too much" N? Better anemic, weak, small, N-deficient plants than dead burnt plants!)

My theory is that the time to add chemical N safely is BEFORE the plants are there. I fianlly found a store that would sell me Urea (46-0-0 and cheap). So I'm going to dissolve teaspoons or tablespoons in gallon and 5-gallon buckets, and fertilize my compost heap more often than my plants! Someone warned against more than 2 pounds of urea per 1,000 square feet of plants, and I figure that is just under one gram per square foot.

They say you can grow tomatoes in straw bales, if you pre-fertilze the straw with enough N that the straw is composting as the roots are growing. Wood would be slower than straw, but if you add enoguh N to your compost heap, the wood ought to decompose somewhat faster. And the risk of burning bacteria's roots is not as great as burning a plant's roots. If you over-fertilze a heap, rain will cure it eventually, or adding more wood shavings and waiting a week or two.

You also are lucky in trying to bury shavings prematurely, rather than fine sawdust. Soil microbes will jump right on fine sawdust, suck up ALL the soil N to try to eat it super fast and all at once. Thciker shavings can't be eaten as quickly, so the N deficit would be much less severe, but might last a year or more.

Then, are you growing some heavy feeders like Brassicas or N-hungry corn, or some slow-growing thing that likes lean, well-drained soil? If the crop needs more N than your soil has, worry. If your soil is richer than it needs to be for that crop, don't worry about a little wood that is still breaking down.

So it is a matter of degree and a judgement call, as to whene it would cross from "wow that bed grew poorly this year" to "you can't SEE any harm".

How immediate is the need to use those shavings underground right away? Raw or half-cooked or fully composted, they can always be spread freely on top as mulch! Above the soil, no one cares if they steal N from each other, and when they do dissolve, the worms will still eat them. And meanwhile they mulch cools your soil and keeps soil water from evaporating.

Just mechanically, how dissolved do the shavings need to be for your kind of gardening? Would you be OK mixing large, stiff anythings into your soil? (Like, ignoring the N-deficit problem). Chunks are great for top-dress mulch, but too many coarse things underground is going to make the roots wander and wind to get around them. But if you WANT big chunks, say for "loft" or aeration, maybe you can use some shavings relatively undigested. For example, greatly improved aeration and drainage might help more then a little N competition hurt.

All speculative, and like most gardening questions, the answer is "it depends on your situation and your kind of gardening".

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Quote from rouge21 :

I am so unsure re the use of 'wood' in my composter. Specifically, I regularly mix clean wood shavings (not dust but the larger shavings) with my greens. Lately these greens have been lots and lots of my neighbour's grass clippings. But clearly wood shavings take (much) longer to fully breakdown. After several months of such composting I assume I could use the resulting material sprinkled around the base of my plants but how long and what would it need to look like to be able to use it as an actual planting medium?

Somebody should invent a cheap test.
How about, fill a small pot, plant a few beans and see how they look in a month? If brand new baby beans can grow, then wouldn't the stuff be OK for anything else?

Or--you could always put small piles of your 'cooled but maybe still composting' material on top of the soil between plants. Fungi and bacteria still at work will continue, plants roots below will suck up whatever comes on down.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

We've had excellent results with both woodshavings and sawdust.

My husband is an avid woodworker. He saves the sawdust when he empties out his sawdust collector (from using his power tools) and puts it in huge plastic bags. We've used it for assorted things, mostly in the yard, but I also layer it with greens in my small compost bin.

It's amazing how quickly the sawdust (or shavings) will kill the odor from rotting grass or veggie scraps. The contents also really heat up, but our bin doesn't stay hot very long because of its small size. We may eventually add a slightly larger open compost pile, but right now this serves us very well and also keeps out any curious critters.

The sawdust may take a little longer than some things to break down, but once it does, the resulting compost has been beautiful "Black Gold", very rich and wonderful to spread on my garden beds.

Don't ever use any part of a 'Black Walnut' tree as it has an ingredient that will inhibit the growth of many plants! Other than that, we've used both hardwods and softwoods with great results. You can also make a separate pile of the sawdust or wood shavings, if you like, to allow them to rot some, but whichever method you decide on, it's a very valuable ingredient in the garden.

Honeybee, I empty my paper shredder regularly...right into the compost bin. I don't dump it in one chunk, rather I layer it with some "greens" or other "browns" that don't mat down. I also collect my coffee filters, with the used grounds still in them, in a plastic bag (more paper). When it's full I dump it into the compost bin. Paper breaks down and it's just one more FREE ingredient for the garden. I just love anything that's FREE!

This message was edited Aug 30, 2012 12:56 PM

Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

We live in central Fl. where soil is nothing but sand. I use bucket on my Kubota and bring up cow manure from around hay feeder where cows eat and deposit and spread it on garden space just the way it is but also have some in 2 large piles that is rotting down for my flower beds. Once it dries out I just put the tiller on back Kubota and till it under to about 6 inches. Rake out all big stuff and smooth it all out then its ready to plant. I also use fish emulsion once plants get up about 2 inches. Just wish I knew someone with rabbit farm. That stuffs like gold for a garden.
I'm looking forward to cooler weather and my winter garden.
Happy gardening all.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

..>> BonnieGardens I'm looking forward to cooler weather and my winter garden.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

Well I goofed my post again , reply; I'M NOT!! only if that means you aren't going to miss this summer ,Me neither!!!!

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

>> We live in central Fl. where soil is nothing but sand.

I wish I could trade a few yards of my clay for your sand! Mix 'em together and be halfway towards good loam.

Clermont, FL(Zone 9a)

Took me 40 years to realize that the soil here had to be amended to grow anything plus water, water, water. Don't know what I'd use if we didn't have cows. Guess I'd truck it in but they keep our taxes down and provide meat and fertilizer and keep the pastures looking neat . We are zoned ag thanks to them so taxes are a lot lower. I will certainly miss them when we get to old to maintain the fences, haul their hay and go out to feed them. We have black angus. They really are my husbands best friends. He loves them but it does't bother him to butcher one a year which we can't do anymore so we take one to butcher and he slaughters, cuts up and packages.
Our youngest son lives pretty close so he helps his dad load and take to butcher. We give him 1/2 the cow cause just 2 of us we don't need all that beef. Plus I give friends that stop by some steaks as I don't like them anymore. I should raise some chickens again as we eat more of that now. I don't like butchering them but can do it. Can't beat fresh meat and fresh vegies.
When my kids were little they used to say Mom was making cow poop soup. I filled a barrel with water and added cow manure and used to bucket it out on plants. Helped them along. In Fl. the bugs are really a challenge. I tried neem oil but it didn't help a bit. Lots of times I sprinkle plain old cooking flour on plants and bugs leave them alone. I have the best luck with broccoli which is a winter crop here. Tomatoes are really a challenge. Blossom end rot usually gets mine even tho I bought the chemical to stop it.

Gardening is wonderful exercise and rewarding.
Happy gardening all.

Anderson, IN(Zone 6a)

What do people gardening in Florida think of the dissolved sorghum formulas,I now enough about sand that it doesn't hold that ( the syrup type formula) to any degree,but it does have a lot of nutrients for blooms or fruits. It has been years since I tried that so I am asking as discussion more than anything.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

You're making me hungry!

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