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We have a backyard compost bin for our vegetable garden and a few flower beds. Forgive me for being a total noob on this, but can someone offer me couple of good resources on what's ok and not ok to put in it and some best practices? Currently we are trying to only put in food scraps like the fruits and veggies, used tea leaves, coffee grounds... Is it ok to put bread in it? Cheese? I think it's not ok to put in meat or highly processed foods, right?

Over the winter, we mistakenly used the compost as more of a garbage disposal and it has too much processed food in it. Is it still useable? It's kindof a large bin and we're a few weeks away from planting our garden and don't want to lose everything in there.

Edit to add: The compost bin is about 2' x 2' x 3' and it has a lid and sliding door opening toward the bottom. My husband turns it often. And we do add grass clippings, leaves, and other small backyard organics (dug up plants, etc) to it.

  • What are the bin dimensions? – Graham Chiu Apr 4 '16 at 19:01
  • Search the internet for "Garden Web" and "Compost Wacko". – Thomas Matthews Apr 4 '16 at 20:18
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I think in general, most people stick to using produce scraps, tea leaves and coffee grounds for their pile. There are a few concerns with other types of scraps:

  • Some scraps will attract vermin (meat, dairy, fats, breads, processed foods)
  • Some scraps could carry pathogens that are unlikely to be killed during the composting process (meats, food from the plate of someone who is ill, and feces of course)
  • Some scraps contain preservatives or compounds that won't break down well in the pile (processed foods, excessive amounts of citrus)

Some will say that if you are willing to put in the diligence required to properly maintain a hot compost pile, meat dairy and other scraps are perfectly fine. Given how common e-coli and other pathogens are, though, and how difficult they are to kill in a home-scale compost pile, I'd be extremely hesitant to try these. Personally, I do compost bread items and have not yet (knock on wood) had any vermin issues.

  • 1
    A good green/brown mix is important too, there's a simple guide here - abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s3683114.htm – Ben Cannon Apr 4 '16 at 16:27
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    Yes, although I think sometimes we get too hung up on the green/brown mix. A pile with too much green will get smelly. Add leaves or straw (for example) to remedy. A pile with too much brown will break down very slowly. All veggie peelings or fresh grass clippings to speed it up. I think it is important to know that an unbalanced pile will still produce compost, and it is better to compost haphazardly than not at all. – michelle Apr 4 '16 at 16:50
  • What is a hot compost pile? – TheSmallestOne Apr 5 '16 at 1:49
  • Do not add tomatos, they inhibit the digestion process severely. – Escoce Apr 5 '16 at 2:46
  • Unless the pile is very hot, do not add weeds which have gone to seed. – Nic Apr 8 '16 at 22:43
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In general, there is no problem with composting bread scraps. I highly recommend some kind of fortification to prevent critters from entering your compost pile.

The folks at GardenWeb have created A Brief Intro to Composting. Composting has more to do with volume and the categories of the contributions. For example, you need a certain percentage of greens and browns. There are certain minimum volume required for an efficient compost pile.

I had a compost pile, 4' x 4' base and it required at least 3' in height before I got heat out of it. My daughter and I fed it vegetable scraps and bread scraps. The pile would "eat" our contributions. Remember to bury stuff so that the birdies don't get to things. As my daughter once said, "don't forget the wormies".

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It sounds as though you've been using your compost bin as a rubbish dump filling it with your winter kitchen waste. It's likely to be a large anaerobic pile, and very smelly from the loss of nitrogen compounds e.g. ammonia to the air. A pile should be built in one go, and by adding to it continuously, you are delaying the pile as the last material added determines when the pile will be ready.

Given that your bin will likely be full of immature nitrogenous waste, you now have the opportunity to build a proper pile. If you can get hold of a bale of straw, which is mainly carbon, you can build a new layered pile alternating layers of straw, bin materials, and dirt, watering each layer unless already sopping wet, until you have a cubic pile that is a 1 metre high.

If you have access to many bales of straw, you can insulate the pile with them to prevent vermin getting in, and to keep the heat inside the pile.

With luck, watering, and turning, you'll have decent compost fit for your garden in a few months time.

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I went to a composting workshop recently (in NZ) and the guy running it put a whole dead sheep in his compost pile and it broke down in around 2 weeks, so I don't think there is a hard and fast rule about not putting in meat. Note that this was a "hot" compost pile i.e. all the ingredients were put together to start with in about 1 cubic metre of space. He said he measured the temp at around 55 (celsius) in the middle of the pile. His take on attracting vermin was that you are going to attract them anyway, so just be aware of it and put down traps if it is an issue. A good mix of green and brown was also required, but anything could go in as long as it was in smaller pieces and had previously been alive (including old cotton t-shirts !)

  • One problem with even pure cotton fabrics is that they're stitched with synthetic threads that don't break down at all. – Chris H Apr 5 '16 at 8:27
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    Where in NZ? Koanga hold workshops but never heard of them putting in dead sheep. – Graham Chiu Apr 5 '16 at 11:56
  • I would never use meat or poo poo from predator animals...cats, dogs. Turning the pile is critical as are additions of nitrogen. There is a cat litter that is all alfalfa and super for feeding the decomposers quite cheaply. But one DOES have to feed your compost decomposers who need lots of nitrogen. And one has to keep adding moisture, certainly not wet but to keep moist! – stormy Apr 6 '16 at 0:08
  • @GrahamChiu in Queenstown. Run by local Wastebusters & Council. – Paul Apr 8 '16 at 1:55
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I have heard that mulched up tree leaves and coffee grounds are the best for making compost. I have heard to not put food in your compost bin. Also do not layer the mulched tree leaves and coffee grounds. They need to be mixed together.

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