Starting a compost pile shouldn’t require a chemistry degree. In fact, composting at home should be easy to maintain and not a time sucker. Our lives are all busy, and who has time for something that requires hours per week? Thankfully, I’m going to help you break down what not to compost and what you definitely should be adding to your compost pile.
What’s the big deal about composting?
Knowing how to compost at home is a great way to get free nutrients for your flower and vegetable gardens. By using what you already have around: kitchen scraps, cardboard, leaves, etc., you can produce rich organic matter that plants will thrive in.
And while you’re getting all of this good stuff for plants, you’re also significantly cutting down on what is going into your local landfill, and that is always a good thing. I know “green living” may seem like a bit of a trendy term, but my grandparents had a compost pile way back when, because it’s really just being a good steward of the environment. And honestly, making your own compost at home is so much cheaper than buying it at the store.
Haven’t started composting yet? Check out my beginner’s guide to composting to find out exactly how to get started.
What Not to Compost
As with all things, there are a few rules about what can and cannot be composted. In general, your kitchen scraps can always go in, but just to make things clear, here’s what cannot be composted. (And check out the infographic at the end of the post for a quick reference.)
- Meat– In general, meat is on the not-to-compost list because of the risk of it attracting wildlife and your neighbor’s dog to rummage through your compost pile. There may also be some risk if the meat has any possibility of being contaminated with e-coli, since that can live for several years.
- Animal Poop (from carnivores)– Your pet bunny’s little poops are a-okay for the compost, but if you have a meat-eater, like a dog, then adding Fido’s refuse to the compost is a no-no. I would also avoid cat poo, especially if it’s from a litter box, since most cat litter is laden with chemicals. There’s also the risk of pathogens and bacteria in a meat-eater’s refuse.
- Dairy Products– They tend to go rancid sitting out in a compost pile, and they may attract unwanted attention from rodents. If there’s butter on a piece of bread, then no big deal, but don’t dump half a carton of cottage cheese in the compost pile.
- Fat/Grease– As with meat, fat and grease will attract wildlife and neighborhood pets. There are facilities where you can safely dispose of oil, so definitely go that route.
- Coal Ashes– Toxic to plants due to high sulfur content, coal ashes won’t be a good addition to your compost pile.
- Plastic/Glass/Rubber- These materials will not biodegrade into your compost pile, so place them in your recycling bin if your city/county accepts them.
- Diseased Plants– If a plant dies due to any kind of disease, the best thing you can do is tie it up in a bag, and place it in your trash can. Burning a diseased plant could also be a disposal option. Putting sick plants in the compost may just spread that disease to other plants in the future.
Want a list of what you should be composting? Head over to my article What to Compost.
Can Bread be Composted?
This is actually a very common question, and the answer is yes! Bread can absolutely be composted in the home compost bin or pile. As with most food, it’s easier to break down if the bread is in smaller chunks or slices, instead of half of a loaf sitting in the pile. But go ahead and compost that bread. (That rhyme was unintentional, but effective!)
What about eggshells?
Absolutely! And they don’t even really need to be crushed up, unless you want them to break down more quickly. Not only can eggs go in the compost, but cardboard egg cartons can go in the compost pile as well!
If you want to use eggshells directly, you can also direct compost them in an area where you’re planning to plant/grow tomatoes in the coming months. Tomato plants require lots of calcium, and eggshells are an excellent source, so place crushed shells in the ground in the late winter/early spring to give them a chance to break down before summer tomato season.
How to Use Compost
Once your compost has fully broken down, this can take any where from 3 to 9 months, you’ll be able to use your compost! Will there still be chunks in your compost? Possibly. This doesn’t mean your compost isn’t ready, but you may need to screen your compost before you use it.
Food scraps and eggshells should be fully broken down though, so you can use this as a guide to tell if your compost is ready. Once it’s ready, you can spread a few inches of fresh compost at the base of your shrubs, or work it into garden soil. It’s a great way to feed your plants from organic matter than has been broken down in your own backyard!
If you have any composting tips, feel free to share them in the comments below! Have a great week and happy gardening!