Compost-Along: Week 1

by Daisy

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I’m way too excited about this CAL.

I was afraid nobody would show up, but a bunch of you did and I can’t tell you how tickled it makes me.

I’m also excited to have a big pile of delicious compost a few weeks from now.

This first week is important, but not very physically taxing.  We’re just going to have to put our thinking caps on and make a couple of decisions.

First, we have to pick the sort of pile we are going to have.  There are so many types of compost bins and set-ups, it can get overwhelming.  And, as Anne-Marie pointed out yesterday, some of us live in places where HOA’s regulate and monitor what we do and don’t do, so that can be an additional challenge.  Other people have physical restrictions, or space restrictions, or time and resource restrictions, so those things must be addressed as well.

This first week is the time to look at all the options and individual needs we have and decide what kind of pile works best for each of us.  It can absolutely be as simple as a pile on the ground.  It can also be a garbage can like Marianne mentioned.  For HOA people whose regulations bar “compost piles,” barrel-style compost tumblers which are technically not compost “piles” can be an option. It may also be possible (and cheaper) to use a decent-looking garbage can in a color that blends into the environment.  There are of course commercially manufactured ones that look very nice and can be put in an out-of-the-way corner and are rodent-proof.

I like simple best, especially for beginners. I also like cheap. I’m very partial to the pile on the ground.  The pallet-bins also fit the cheap bill, as do wire-fencing bins that are just a length of welded wire fencing (like horse fencing wire) formed in a circle and secured with zip ties or more wire. I’ve even seen neat-o straw bale compost bins that look like a whole lotta compost going on.  Eventually the “bin” itself can be incorporated into the compost.

I encourage you to do an image search on “compost bins” and look at all the options.  Once you’ve narrowed it down to the type you think will work best in your situation, narrow that search to that particular type.

Once you’ve picked out your bin or pile style, the next thing to think about is how you are going to get your greens and browns.  My neighborhood makes that fairly easy because every week on a certain day, I know everyone’s leaves and grass clippings are going to be on the curb in clear plastic bags.  I don’t have a truck, but I can fit a few bags in my station wagon. If they are on the curb waiting for pickup, they’re fair game.  I know now not to pick up more that I can easily carry, and to pass by the thin, heavy, hot bags. I also know to carry a broom and a dust pan with me just in case.

Don’t forget your own kitchen veg and fruit trimmings.  Here’s the list of what to put in and what to leave out, according to the EPA:


  • Herbivorous animal manure
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings

Leave Out/Reason Why

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    • Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash
    • Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs*
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
    • Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils*
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps*
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)*
    • Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
    • Might kill beneficial composting organisms

To recap, for Week 1 choose your type of pile and figure out how you are going to get the materials to fill it.

If you need help and suggestions, ask in comments and we’ll all try to help each other.  If you have general suggestions about things that have worked for you and cool ways to score great compost materials, please share.

If you haven’t already, it’s not too late to join in our CAL (Compost-Along)!

Extra Credit: For extra credit, feel free to get/build/locate the pile or bin and start gathering compost materials.

Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

gmorgan May 29, 2012 at 9:07 am

Well, this week will be easy for me, I already have the bins and location. Yesterday, during a nice lull in the rain, I emptied last years collection and found really NICE black soil, which I spread out onto my little garden and filled in several low spots. Whatever hadn’t quite broken down, I threw back into the bin as a bottom filler for air. Then I started pulling out my annual fight with the Virginia Creeper vine (nice in its proper place, but too aggressive here IMO) and put the trimmings into the bin on top of the old stuff. More coffee grounds and peelings will be entered today.
BTW, I peeked into the bottom of the other bin (it has a sliding door ), and saw that if I play my cards right, I’ll get more usable compost by the end of the summer.
My bins are identical to the bins sold for $129 (?) by Gurney’s, but my county sells them to the public for $15 each every year as a way to keep compostable garbage out of the landfill. I think its really stupid not to take advantage of such a terrific deal and then get such a great bonus!

Adica May 29, 2012 at 9:45 am

Homework #1: My family already has a compost pile on the ground next to the vegetable garden (it needs some work, and we used most of it in this year’s planting, anyway), so that was easy enough.

Homework #2: My sources are summarized in my blog post:

As I said in my blog post, my main concern is getting enough green material. My dad says fruits and vegetables will attract rats, and we use our grass clippings as lawn mulch. I was thinking I could collect fallen leaves after storms, though. There are a lot of trees in the neighborhood, and there are always small branches falling.

Jessica May 29, 2012 at 10:08 am

What are the asterisks for in the Leave Out list?

Daisy May 29, 2012 at 10:47 am

Jessica–Oh, I should have taken those off–the EPA had that to show which ones could be remediated through commercial composting.

Jessica May 29, 2012 at 11:23 am

Ah, I thought it might be something like that.

Amy May 29, 2012 at 11:55 am

Guess I’ll add cleaning out the tumbler to my “to-do” list this week – for when it cools down at the end of the week. I haven’t looked in there in ages, so perhaps I ought to do that and add some shredded paper if it’s all wet…

Michelle May 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm

I am in! Keep me posted on ideas as I bought a large composter and was immediately able to fill it with yard and kitchen scraps.
Thanks so much, can’t wait to be a pro!

Lindsay May 29, 2012 at 3:27 pm

We have a straw bale one right now. We live in the country, so moldy hay bales are not hard to come by, and no one really cares if I have a huge nasty pile of who-knows-what on my property 🙂 I also got a smaller, black plastic store-bought composter for my birthday (my parents know me so well!). I think I’m going to use it to finish my compost into really fine pretty stuff.
I have plenty of straw and manure and vegetation clippings at my disposal so that takes care of my contents
For those who don’t live on a farm, try Craigslist for contents. In the Farm/Garden section, there are always listings for free manure, old straw/hay, leaves, etc. I have gotten several loads of horse manure from a local stable, and all I had to do was show up. They loaded it for me and everything.

Diane May 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I think I am going to go with a garbage can since we have a spare one and maybe it will keep things under control. We have a big ugly pile already, but the problem is I find it overwhelming and obnoxious to try to dig and turn the darn thing, and I think there is too much soil, wet/green material being put in, etc. It’s been anaerobic in the past, too, which is just gross. Right now I’m ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

I think a fair bit of my brown material will come from the paper shredder at my office, but I’m going to struggle to find green material. Like Adica says we leave our grass clippings on the lawn for mulch, most of our kitchen waste goes to our chickens. I like gmoragn’s idea, though, I’m going to go out and start whacking on the virginia creeper and ivy on our fence for starters.

Mary@Back to the Basics! May 29, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I’ve got a big ugly “tuff bin” I’ve been using for a while. The last of the mature compost should be emptied out tomorrow and I’ll be ready to start fresh.

CJ May 29, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Yep, sounds like my little barrow will be just fine. Now for getting some new green, browns and kitchen organics. 🙂

Allison May 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Add me to the CAL team. For those using trash cans, any special instructions? Drill holes in the bottom? Does anyone tape the lid on and roll it around to mix? Other suggestions? Thanks!

Dawn May 29, 2012 at 7:57 pm

I have started a pile in the back yard. I will be using rabbit droppings, straw, coffee grounds and filters, cardboard rolls from toilet paper and paper towel rolls, lint from the dryer, eggshells and fruits and veggies (the ones that dont make it to my chickens, grass clippings, and wood chips from splitting wood.

Jelaine Zastrow May 30, 2012 at 2:44 am

Unless someone teaches me how the new PDF files can be saved onto a thumbdrive and printed out like in the past for carry-along info with the chosen project, I am extremely peeved. Why the change? Was it necessary and why? Please help me out here.

Jan Kolodge May 30, 2012 at 3:19 am

Great start! In preparation for wanting to do this anyway! Great timing eh? I had been thinking about what can I use to start building my compost pile. There are a lot of restrictions by my City, so I had to have something that was confined, looked well but useful.
I was soooo lucky. I was doing my regular walk about at my local garden center when I saw a great huge compost bin with airholes, lid, even came with a special shuvel. the price??? $200 -… I asked how long they had had this bin? The owner said he was open to selling it to me for less. I got it for a unbelievable $35.
Now, I’m a person that upcycles and would prefer to use chicken wire and ties but it would still cost me.
I set the bin up in a sunny, easily accessible but hidden location.
I’m now thinking where I can get the compost building resources? Bytheway, your list is really helpful. p.s. I’ve also salvaged a mini aluminium smaller pedal bin to put in my kitchen next to the ordinary garbage can for the compost kitchen supplies. I’m getting there!

Jenny May 30, 2012 at 4:33 am

Yeah, easy week for me! I have had my compost pile for
3 years!

Rosalyn May 30, 2012 at 4:50 am

I am very excited about this! I started a compost pile last month, still very new, so I think I’ll continue to work on that. You can have a look at my blog post about it here: . I had loads of browns when I started, but have really only had access to greens since then. I’ll be putting out kitchen scraps (until I get my chickens, soon hopefully), yard trimmings, any leaves that blow into our yard, and shredded newspaper. I may have access to extra wood chips as well, and if so, I’ll use those as well. I am so glad that my dad saved our pitchforks from years ago when our family lived in the country, they’ll be a real asset for turning the pile!

Sandra May 30, 2012 at 5:01 am

Hi – Izzy and I have a pile in the corner of the garden and we plod out there every couple of days with vege scraps. Izzy was putting the hay from the chicken coop in pile but we find that bound up the compost and the seed from the aviary started to sprout. So, these are no longer part of our pile and instead of spending money on hay ($12.00 for a medium-sized bag in Auckland at the moment) we have taken to shredding newspaper which is able to be added to the compost. We turn the pile regularly and hope to have some comfrey leaves soon (once the plants really take off) to add as I believe these are great for composting.

Sarah May 30, 2012 at 6:37 am

Does it matter if pesticides have been used on the grass trimmings and leaves? Since most of my neighbors use them, I am scared to pick up their lawn bags.

Daisy May 30, 2012 at 7:02 am

Sarah–One of my fav video clips is on that subject:
I’m going to tweet it, too. It’s very interesting.

Sondra May 30, 2012 at 7:41 am

I have the location, just have to put up two “walls” to keep everything from going downhill. Plenty of kitchen scraps, shredded paper from work & with all the rain, plenty of grass clippings.

Anne B May 30, 2012 at 7:52 am

We have 2 wire bins, but volunteer squash have taken over one! Guess we’ll empty the oldest one onto garden beds and start again. This is a fun group.

Marie James May 30, 2012 at 8:59 am

This CAL is perfect timing for us! We are revamping our compost system to prevent our dogs and chickens…and local magpies…from dining at the buffet and scattering food around. Starting next week we’ll share our progress with our readers at Rural Living Today–

Karen June 1, 2012 at 3:29 am

Got my bin empty and ready, pleanty of scraps and bits around the place, cant wait to start!!

AmyC June 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

I have a giant pile on the ground which is mostly last year’s scraps and a tree stump my neighbor had ground. I’m harvesting from it now. my pile is ugly and takes up too much space so I ought to change it anyway.
I have a worm bin that’s about 3 months old.- and the majority of my kitchen scraps have been going into it (after time in the freezer.) Now we have chickens that I’d like to eat more kitchen scraps (but my sister had them on feed and free range so they aren’t real excited yet about them)
Sooo… my plan. I’m going to build a wire bin and add the stuff that is still big from my pile…but I’m not sure what else in the way of greens yet. Ideas: my mother’s yard stuff, my neighbor’s yard stuff and hopefully I’ll have more vegetable detritus from my garden and the CSA. 🙂 I’ll be adding coffee grounds, too since I drink it like a fiend and it gets my worm bin too hot. 🙂

Anne-Marie June 2, 2012 at 10:02 am

As for many of you, this was an easy week for me since I’ve been composting for a few years. Some things I’ve learned, many the hard way:
1) While I have a frugal streak that runs miles deep, HOA rules and low husband-acceptance-factor forced me into using tumblers. It quickly became clear I needed two — one feeding, one “cooking”. Bought them from that giant online retailer.
2) Even with tumbers making regular turning easy, turning out the finished product is hard work. While a big ol’ pile and pitchfork may be a great alternative to a gym membership, keep in mind your own strenth and level of help (or lack of it!) from your household when picking a pile.
3) I have access to ~5 gallons of domestic mouse bedding in the form of soiled wood shavings weekly. Just about the best super-hot brown ever. Know anyone with pet rodents? Show up on cage cleaning day. Coffee grounds are the second best. Collect ’em from work if you can. Kitchen scraps are all the greens I need.
4) My compost tumbles first, gets nicely mixed and decomposed, then gets turned out to age in old garbage cans drilled with holes. No turning or tumbling at this point, until I’m ready to use it.
5) Clumps of cat hair from the vacuum bin never, ever decompose. Just show up as mats in the finished product. I wonder if it helps keep the bunnies away?

gmorgan June 3, 2012 at 9:39 am

I have always heard that hair clippings of any kind were prime compost material, but I have to agree with you that it never seems to really break down, no matter how hot the pile. HOWEVER, the little birdies seem to like it for their nests and pick it out of the garden. I have seen the old nests with my own long hair and even horse tail hairs interwoven into the grasses, twigs and birchbark. I kept one tiny one for use as a Christmas tree ornament which I snuggle into the branches. Fascinating!

Celeste June 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I’m with GMorgan….. Scored a bin from the county years ago, but only started using within the last few years. Scored a second bin FREE from a neighbor that decided composting wasn’t for her. It seems I have seen several at yard sales and on Craigslist…. so keep your eyes open and one might just appear.

Megan B June 29, 2012 at 5:53 pm

I have gone for a chicken wire and zip tie round bin that I can easily move. In terms of browns, I plan to get some wonderful grounds from the local Starbucks and I have plenty of paper. In terms of greens, I may be drawing a blank. I thought if local veg stands might throw out their ruined vegetables, I could ask for those. I haven’t seen much in the way of grass clippings in my neighborhood, and I don’t have much veg clippings myself. Can I put Virginia Creeper in or will it root in the compost? I do not want to spread it more than it already has.

Daisy June 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Megan B–Welcome and looks good. Va creeper won’t root if you kill it in the hot center. Build it and the greens will come.

gmorgan June 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Bury that creeper into your pile, let it get heated up, then stir it and steam those puppies into compost. Be sure to water the pile so it “works” and gets as hot as it can. Weed seeds and noxious weeds and ivys will wilt into a better life.

Pancua July 18, 2012 at 7:05 am

I am relatively new to gardening and started my own compost bin a couple weeks ago after doing a quick how to through google. I completely missed your CAL call out but here I am! 🙂

Quick question, meat has been added to my compost been already and has started to break down. I didn’t realize it was on the No list. Do I need to start over or can I go with what I have and just not add any more meat?

Daisy July 18, 2012 at 9:37 am

Pancua–No, the prohibition on meat has to do with the fact that it attracts vermin and pets and flies, etc., and is typically stinky. It doesn’t make the compost unusable, it’s just not easy to live with for most home gardeners, esp. the suburbanites. SO, your pile is fine, keep using it. You might consider making sure the meat is buried in there good–it will compost faster and confuse the pests.

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