Currently viewing the tag: "“browns” and “greens”"

by Ana Morlier

One Person’s Trash Is Another Worm’s Treasure

All About Composting

Happy August, everyone! While we are still melting in the heat, we are nearing a time of cool air and beautiful leaves. I know it’s quite early to reference fall; however, there is a major aspect of gardening that should be considered before the leaves pile up. In fact, you can even start now with lawn clippings. What is this activity? Composting!

While it may not seem desirable at first…“food scraps and plant waste sitting in a bin, right? It’s just as bad as the trash, and it can’t be taken out!” Yet, there actually are many beneficial factors to consider.

First of all, I wish to dissolve the misconception that compost smells. If done correctly, compost should not smell or have rotting or moldy materials in it.

Second, compost cuts down on carbon emissions cost, landfill size, prevents plant diseases and pests from penetrating, and generally helps your dirt to be healthy, among other benefits.

Not everything is compostable. Meat, fish, bones, dairy products, oil, bioplastics, invasive species (of plant), moldy/infested plants, chemicals and/or pesticides should NOT be composted. Not only do meat products attract animals to your compost (and possibly your garden), they do not break down easily. The rest will cause compost to become moldy or harmful if you choose to use compost in your garden (or wherever you decide to put it, for that matter).

What can be composted must be in balance. These are termed as “browns” and “greens.”

“Browns” are hard, dry, and carbon-rich. They are tougher materials, add structure to the pile, and prevent the stench, thus preventing any bugs or critters from coming by. None of the materials listed below should be used if they have been soiled in any way. For example, while cardboard is on the list, you should not use pizza boxes, as all the oil and cheese residue will rot the pile.

“Browns” include:

Paper (napkins, plates, newspaper, parchment paper, toilet paper, tissues, office paper, and junk mail, unused and NOT glossy);

Wood chips (untreated by chemicals);

Sawdust (untreated by chemicals);

Cardboard (egg cartons)

Hey, use hay! (and straw);

Pine needles/cones;

Corn stalks/cobs;

Woody nut shells (these take longer to break down; to combat this, blend them in a food processor or crush them—there is nothing more satisfying than seeing peanut shells turn into dust!).

“Greens” are wet materials, allowing microorganisms to break down materials quickly. They provide the right sugars and proteins for the growth and reproduction of microorganisms.

“Greens” include:

Feces can be used, but only add feces (minimally) from herbivores to get the duty done (yes, I know, manure);

Tea bags/coffee grounds;

Fruit and vegetable scraps;

Trimmings from plants (weeds included, as long as they haven’t set seed);

Plants, themselves;

Grass clippings;

Leaves—jump in that pile, then put it to good use when fall arrives;

Seaweed (you are lucky if you have some—it’s nutrient-rich, and it might mean you live by the ocean).

A good ratio to keep in mind is two browns to one green. But, if you are in doubt, it’s always safer to add more dry materials than for mold to set in. Make sure to stir your compost on a regular basis because microorganisms break down the compost as they are exposed to more oxygen and as the compost is turned. This can be done with a shovel and/or a compost turner. Heat also makes the composting process occur faster.

The formula: Food+Water+Oxygen+

Heat+Structure+Time = The Perfect


You can buy a compost container or make your own—whether it is made from a plastic bin, wood, wire mesh, or palettes is up to you! As long as it is covered to prevent animals from coming by. Finally, keep in mind the composting process can take quite a while. 

I hope you are inspired to become a force of composing and try it out for yourself. Be sure to hang up the list of browns and greens somewhere you can see on a daily basis. While composting may seem degrading at first, if put into practice and done correctly, it can be good for the soul and the soil. Good luck!

This is a wonderful picture example of homemade compost bins made of wood. Not only does it provide the perfect composting conditions, but it also looks stylish!

Photo Credit: Composting by Jen Waller