All types of shredded paper are great for the compost pile, as are a number of other kitchen items which you may not have considered. Check out this list of common household items that will give your compost pile a kick...and save space in the landfill at the same time:

  • hair (human or animal)
  • pasta (without sauces or oils)
  • stale bread
  • facial tissues
  • peanut shells
  • bad wine
  • stale beer
  • dust bunnies/lint
  • clean shellfish shells
  • old herbs and spices
  • tea bags
  • shredded cardboard

And here are some of the "old standards"

  • coffee grounds (pick up free bags of used grounds at most Starbucks locations)
  • paper coffee filters
  • crushed egg shells
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Wood ashes

These are in addition to the usual base ingredients of shredded leaves, grass, sawdust, newspaper, etc., of course.

A quick compost primer:

Compost breaks down most efficiently when there is a good mixture of dry and moist items, but don't let it get too wet. If your pile is smelly, there's too much moisture. Add some dry leaves or shredded paper. Piles can become dry as well, so make sure you add water every once in awhile to keep the contents damp, but not soaking. (I can always tell when my pile is too dry when the fire ants take up residence.) Also, get in the habit of poking and turning the pile periodically to add oxygen.

If your pile has been around awhile but doesn't feel warm in the middle, you need to crank it up on the nitrogen side. Grass clippings are the best thing for a compost kick-start. Sufficient heat is vital to the function of a good compost pile, and is a death sentence for any pathogens that may exist in the contents.

Speaking of which...there is ongoing discussion regarding the addition of pet waste to the compost pile. A high percentage of seasoned composters advise against it. The argument is that the feces of meat-eating animals like cats and dogs can contain diseases, and should therefore not be composted.

However, an efficient compost pile will break down the pathogens present in manure. Therein also lies the problem, though - a small compost pile or one without the adequate balance of "green" and "brown" ingredients will not have the proper amount of heat in the middle to burn away such pathogens and some gardeners may not monitor their piles or maintain the proper temperature.

ImageI must admit I am a bit of a fence sitter on this topic. As the mommy of two large and very poop-productive doggies, I maintain two separate piles and do compost their solid waste in my large pile. It only makes sense. However, just to be on the safe side, I use this only on ornamentals and not on or near my food crops. Instead, I used compost made in the other pile.

If you're so inclined, purchase a compost thermometer and keep tabs on how hot the middle of the pile actually gets. The recommended temperature for killing harmful pathogens is around 130°. If yours is hotter than that, poke a few holes in the pile to cool it down - you don't want to kill the good microbes in there, which excessively high temperatures will do.

And lastly...about those holiday bills? Be sure to tear out the little plastic window on the envelope before composting...and make sure you've paid them first, of course!