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Carbon, Nitrogen & Compost

In order for microorganisms to properly break down your compost pile they require a certain ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen (C: N). It is also possible to have a nervous breakdown worrying about precise ratios and recommended temperatures. There is a multitude of information on techniques, systems and recipes. I think the best approach is to keep in mind the optimal numbers and basic techniques then experiment on your own.

Everything that you put into the compost pile has a C: N ratio. For example, leaves are high in carbon with around a 60:1 ratio and coffee grounds & grass clippings have more nitrogen with a 20:1 ratio. In general, the C: N ratio that you want to achieve in your compost pile is approximately 30:1. The key is to balance the ingredients by alternating layers until you get close to that ratio.

There are a couple of indicators that you have the right ratio of C: N. After a week the center of the pile should be hot to the touch (around 130 degrees Fahrenheit). If the pile is not hot then you probably have too much carbon. Another clue that your ratio is off is a very stinky pile. Excessive nitrogen causes excessive smells from the pile. Additional carbon is the solution here.

Avoid these 8 in your compost

  1. Black walnut tree leaves or twigs releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  2. Coal or charcoal ash might contain substances harmful to plants
  3. Dairy products (e.g., butter, egg yolks, milk, sour cream, yogurt) create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  4. Diseased or insect-ridden plants might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  5. Fats, grease, lard, or oils create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  6. Meat or fish bones and scraps create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  7. Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter) might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  8. Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides might kill beneficial composting organisms

21 Things to compost

  1. Animal manure (excluding dog waste)
  2. Cardboard rolls
  3. Clean paper
  4. Coffee grounds and filters
  5. Cotton rags
  6. Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  7. Eggshells
  8. Fireplace ashes
  9. Fruits and vegetables
  10. Grass clippings
  11. Hair and fur
  12. Hay and straw
  13. Houseplants
  14. Leaves
  15. Nut shells
  16. Sawdust
  17. Shredded newspaper
  18. Tea bags
  19. Wood chips
  20. Wool rags
  21. Yard trimmings