Composting – What and What NOT to Use…and Why

The last thing you want to do is put something in your compost pile that will not only harm your soil and your plants, but also harm you. You are, after all, what you eat. What goes into your vegetable garden eventually makes its way into you.

What to Use:

Cardboard – Plain, brown cardboard (boxes, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, packing boxes). You will need to cut it into small pieces first if you want it to decompose quickly.
Dryer lint – Presuming you use natural laundry detergent and no chemical fabric softeners.
Eggshells – Crushed, eggshells are a healthy addition to your compost pile.
Fireplace ashes – In very thin layers.
Fruit scraps – Cores, pits, or peels from the kitchen.
Hair and fur – Got a hairbrush full of hair? Got cat or dog fur piles not coated in flea repellent around the house? Put it in the compost pile!
Lawn clippings – Grass that has not been chemically treated; add to the compost pile in very thin layers at a time
Paper – Newspaper or plain, white paper, preferably shredded.
Plant waste – Disease-free only, can be either garden or house plants.
Rags – Clean, and 100% cotton or 100% wool (or a cotton/wool blend). No synthetics, of course.
Shells from nuts – All nuts but the Black Walnut.
Straw – leftovers from last year’s mulch…
Tree leaves and twigs – From any tree but the Black Walnut. You will need to chop or shred the leaves and twigs into small pieces in order for them to decompose quickly.
Used coffee grounds – Filters, too.
Used tea leaves – BaGs, too.
Vegetable scraps – Ends, peels, uneaten leftovers (minus any dairy or fat such as can be found in cream sauces or dressings) from the kitchen.
Weeds – Provided they have not gone to seed and are thoroughly dead and dried out.
Wood chips, sawdust, or shavings – From natural wood only.

What NOT to Use:

Animal bones and scraps – Not even from fish; all animal scraps stink and attract flies, mice, and rats.
Black Walnut shells or tree scraps – Releases toxins into the soil that could hurt your vegetables.
Brightly-colored paper – Do you want those “astro-bright” dyes in your food supply?
Charcoal ashes – Most charcoal briquets for barbecuing are treated with chemicals to help them light quickly and stay burning for a long time. You don’t want that in your compost. Throw them out.
Chemically treated lawn clippings or plant waste – The chemicals can interfere with the decomposing process, and if you want organic compost, you have to put in organic ingredients.
Chemically treated wood products – They can leach toxic chemicals into your soil (and into you), such as arsenic or chromium.
Dairy products – See “Animal bones and scraps” above. Dairy products will also stink and attract pests to your compost pile.
Diseased plants – The idea is to kill the diseased plants, not recycle them and pass on the disease…
Eggs (whole) – See “Animal bones and scraps” above. Whole eggs will also stink and attract pests to your compost pile.
Excessive sawdust – This can slow down the rate of decomposition.
Feces, human or pet – They carry diseases and should end up in your septic tank or the sewer, not your garden. This includes newspaper birdcage liner and used cat litter. Flush it or throw it away.
Leftover cooking fats – See “Animal bones and scraps” above. Used fats stink (whether they be plant or animal-based) and will attract pests to your compost pile
Seedy weeds – You don’t want to provide weeds with an incubator to germinate.

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