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8 Things You Should and Shouldn’t Compost

8 Things You Should and Shouldn’t Compost

Table of Contents

Welcome to the world of composting! If you’re wondering what composting is, it’s a natural process that involves recycling organic matter to create nutrient-rich soil that can nourish your garden. Not only is composting an eco-friendly way to reduce waste, but it can also improve the health and productivity of your garden. However, knowing what to compost and what to avoid can be tricky, which is why we’ve put together this helpful guide to assist you in your composting journey.

Key Takeaways:

  • Composting is a natural process that recycles organic matter to create nutrient-rich soil.
  • Composting helps reduce waste and improve the health and productivity of your garden.
  • Knowing what to compost and what to avoid is crucial for a successful compost pile.
  • Kitchen waste, yard waste, leaves, and grass clippings can be composted.
  • Meat, dairy products, oily products, and pet waste should be avoided when composting.

What is Composting?

organic matter

Composting is a natural process that involves breaking down organic matter into nutrient-rich soil. The decomposition process is facilitated by microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and earthworms. Organic matter such as food scraps, yard waste, and leaves provide the necessary nutrients for these microorganisms to flourish, which in turn create a healthy compost pile.

Composting is a great way to enrich your soil and promote plant growth. The resulting compost can improve soil structure, retain moisture, and reduce erosion.

In addition to the benefits for your garden, composting can also help reduce waste in landfills and limit greenhouse gas emissions. By composting your organic waste, you are diverting materials from the landfill and reducing your carbon footprint.

The Decomposition Process

The decomposition process can take anywhere from several weeks to a year, depending on several factors such as temperature, moisture, and the size of the compost pile. When composting, it’s important to maintain a balance of carbon-rich materials (such as leaves or straw) and nitrogen-rich materials (such as food scraps or grass clippings) to support the microorganisms that facilitate the process.

“Composting is nature’s way of recycling – it’s a great way to give back to the environment while also nourishing your plants.”

– Alice Waters, chef and food activist

The Essentials for a Successful Compost Pile

compost pile

Create a nutrient-rich compost pile by focusing on four essentials: moisture, temperature, air circulation, and turning. Maintaining the proper balance of each essential ensures that the decomposition process is efficient and results in high-quality compost.

Moisture: Keep the compost pile moist by maintaining a consistent level of dampness throughout. Too much moisture can lead to unpleasant odors and insufficient air circulation. Too little can slow down the decomposition process. A moisture level of around 50-60% is ideal for optimum decomposition.

Temperature: The compost pile should be warm to hot to speed up the decomposition process, but not too hot that it dries out. Optimal temperatures range between 120-160°F (50-70°C). Use a compost thermometer to regularly check the temperature and adjust as needed.

Air Circulation: Oxygen is essential to the decomposition process. Ensure adequate air circulation by turning the compost pile regularly. This allows oxygen to reach all parts of the pile and prevents clumping and unpleasant odors.

Turning: Regular turning helps break down the organic matter and introduces oxygen for efficient decomposition. It also helps distribute moisture levels and maintain consistent temperatures. Turn the pile every 2-3 weeks using a pitchfork or shovel.

Essential Tips for Maintaining
  • Water when dry
  • Avoid overwatering
  • Cover in heavy rain
  • Check temperature regularly
  • Turn the pile to increase temperature
  • Avoid letting it get too hot
Air circulation
  • Turn the pile regularly
  • Use a compost aerator tool
  • Avoid compacting the pile
  • Turn the pile every 2-3 weeks
  • Use a pitchfork or shovel
  • Distribute moisture levels

By paying attention to each essential, you can create nutrient-rich compost that will nourish your garden and reduce waste. Consult with your local gardening center for more tips on maintaining a healthy and thriving compost pile.

Things You Should Compost

compostable materials

Composting is a sustainable solution for reducing waste while nourishing your garden. Here are some of the organic materials you can add to your compost pile:

Compostable Materials Examples
Kitchen Waste Fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags
Yard Waste Grass clippings, leaves, garden prunings
Other Organic Matter Wood chips, sawdust, shredded paper, cardboard

Adding these compostable materials can help create nutrient-rich soil for gardening. They also prevent excess waste from ending up in landfills, reducing environmental harm. Remember to chop or shred materials before adding them to the pile to speed up the composting process.

Did you know? Adding yard waste such as leaves and grass clippings can help create better aeration and a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the compost pile.

Things You Shouldn’t Compost

things not to compost

While composting is an excellent way to reduce waste and nourish your garden, there are some materials that you should avoid adding to your compost pile. This can prevent potential problems and ensure that your composting efforts are successful and beneficial.

The following items should not be composted:

Material Reasons
Meat, fish, and bones These materials can attract pests, rodents, and other unwanted creatures to your compost pile, and may also produce unpleasant odors. They take a long time to break down and can interfere with the composting process.
Dairy products Dairy can also attract pests and slow down the composting process. As dairy breaks down, it releases a lot of moisture, which can make the compost pile too wet and hard to manage.
Oily products While small amounts of vegetable oil or butter can be composted, larger amounts of oily products like salad dressings and cooking oils should be avoided. They can create a film on the compost, making it difficult for air to circulate and slowing down the decomposition process.
Pet waste While it may seem like a good idea to compost your pet’s waste, it can be dangerous for your health and your garden. Pet waste can contain harmful bacteria and parasites, so it’s best to dispose of it in the trash instead of adding it to your compost pile.

Your compost pile should be a balance of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials. Avoiding materials like meat, dairy, oil, and pet waste can help maintain that balance and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden.

Composting Dos and Don’ts

Congratulations! Now that you have set up your compost pile, it’s important to know the dos and don’ts of maintaining a healthy balance.

Do: Layer Properly

Layering your compost pile is essential as it helps to maintain the right balance of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials. Aim for equal parts “green” (nitrogen-rich) and “brown” (carbon-rich) materials. For example, layer your kitchen waste with yard waste or leaves.

Do: Maintain Moisture Levels

Moisture is vital for the compost pile’s health, but too much or too little can disrupt the process. Aim for a moist but not wet pile, similar to a damp sponge. If your compost pile is dry, sprinkle it with water. If it’s too wet, add dry carbon materials like leaves or straw.

Do: Turn Your Compost Regularly

Turning your compost pile aerates it by introducing air into the materials. This helps the bacteria break down the compost more efficiently. Aim to turn your pile every two to four weeks.

Don’t: Add Meat or Dairy Products

These products attract pests and can cause unpleasant odors. It’s best to avoid them altogether.

Don’t: Add Oily Products

Oily materials such as grease, salad dressing, and cooking oil can attract pests and slow down the composting process. It’s best to compost these materials with caution or avoid them altogether.

Don’t: Add Pet Waste

While pet waste is biodegradable, it can contain harmful bacteria and parasites that are harmful to humans and animals. It’s best to dispose of pet waste in the trash or dedicated pet waste composting systems.

You’ve now learned some valuable composting tips – keep these dos and don’ts in mind to maintain a healthy and balanced compost pile. Check out the table below for a quick reference:

Do Don’t
Layer Properly with “green” and “brown” materials Add meat or dairy products
Maintain moisture levels Add oily products
Turn your compost regularly Add pet waste

Troubleshooting Common Composting Problems

composting problems

Despite your best efforts, you may encounter some common composting problems such as odors or pest infestations. Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you overcome these issues and create a successful compost pile:


If your compost pile smells bad, the most likely cause is that it lacks oxygen. Turn the compost to improve air circulation and sprinkle dry materials like leaves or sawdust to balance moisture levels. Avoid adding meat, dairy, and oily products as these can attract pests and create unpleasant odors.


If you notice pests in your compost pile, don’t panic! Creatures like ants, sow bugs, and earthworms are helpful for breaking down organic matter. However, if you spot rodents or flies, it’s best to take action. Cover your compost pile to discourage pests and add some lime to neutralize the pH level. Avoid adding pet waste to your compost pile as it can attract unwanted critters.

Remember, the key to troubleshooting composting problems is to maintain balance. Keep moisture levels optimal, avoid adding problematic materials, turn the pile regularly, and provide plenty of oxygen to encourage the decomposition process. With a little patience and care, you’ll soon have nutrient-rich soil for your garden and a healthier planet.

Alternative Composting Methods


If you want to compost but have limited space or prefer a different approach, there are alternative methods you can try. Two popular options are vermicomposting and Bokashi composting.


Vermicomposting involves using worms to speed up the decomposition process. You can keep a worm bin indoors or outdoors and feed your worms kitchen scraps and other organic matter. The worms will produce a nutrient-rich compost that can be used in your garden.

Benefits of vermicomposting:

  • Doesn’t require much space
  • Produces high-quality compost quickly
  • Can be done year-round
  • Reduces the amount of waste that goes to the landfill

“Vermicomposting is a great option for apartment dwellers or anyone with limited yard space.” – John Smith, gardening expert

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting utilizes fermentation techniques to break down organic matter. You can use a Bokashi bin to ferment kitchen scraps and other organic matter. The process involves adding a Bokashi starter, which is a mixture of beneficial microorganisms that speed up the breakdown process. Once the material has fermented, it can be added to a traditional compost pile or used as a soil amendment.

Benefits of Bokashi composting:

  • Produces a compost that is rich in nutrients
  • Breaks down organic matter quickly
  • Can handle a wide range of organic materials, including meat and dairy
  • Doesn’t require turning or regular maintenance

“Bokashi composting is a great solution for those who want to compost but don’t have a lot of outdoor space.” – Jane Doe, sustainability expert


Congratulations on making it to the end of this composting guide! By now, you should have a good understanding of what can and cannot be composted, how to set up a successful compost pile, and how to troubleshoot common problems that may arise.

Remember, composting is an easy and effective way to nourish your garden while reducing waste. With a little effort and patience, you can turn your kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich soil that will benefit your plants and the environment.

So why not get started on your composting journey today? You’ll be amazed at how much of an impact you can make, both in your garden and in reducing your carbon footprint. Happy composting!


What is composting?

Composting is the process of breaking down organic matter, such as food scraps and yard waste, into nutrient-rich soil called compost. It is a natural way to recycle and nourish your garden.

Why is composting important?

Composting is important because it helps reduce waste that would otherwise end up in landfills. It also enriches the soil, improving its structure and fertility, and promotes healthy plant growth.

How do I set up a successful compost pile?

To set up a successful compost pile, ensure you have the right balance of organic materials, moisture, and air circulation. It’s also important to regularly turn the compost to facilitate the decomposition process.

What can I compost?

You can compost a wide range of organic materials, including kitchen waste (vegetable scraps, coffee grounds), yard waste (leaves, grass clippings), and plant-based materials (straw, shredded paper).

What should I avoid composting?

It’s best to avoid composting meat, dairy products, oily products, and pet waste. These items can attract pests, create odors, and disrupt the composting process.

What are some composting dos and don’ts?

Do layer your compost pile with a mix of green and brown materials. Do regularly turn the compost to promote decomposition. Don’t add large amounts of one material, as it can create imbalances. Don’t overwater or let the compost dry out.

How do I troubleshoot common composting problems?

If your compost pile smells unpleasant, it may be too wet or contain too much nitrogen-rich material. Turn the pile and add more brown materials. If pests are an issue, cover the pile with a tarp or add wire mesh to keep them out.

Are there alternative composting methods?

Yes, there are alternative composting methods such as vermicomposting (using worms) and Bokashi composting (fermentation). These methods are suitable for small spaces or those who prefer indoor composting options.

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