Composting...Where Do I Begin?

Our family has started composting many times…we have been successful, and other times failed miserably.  Sometimes success means you learn from your failures, and move on!  So…our most spectacular failure happened after we moved into our current home.  I wanted a compost pile.  When we last owned a home, we had a very successful garden and compost pile, and the thought of duplicating those efforts was pretty exciting!  Simple, right?  Wrong.  What we ended up with, as they say, was a failure to communicate.  There were people in my home (I never mention guilty parties by name here) who were not quite on board with how compost works, and what we ended up with was a HUGE pile of dog poop, dry leaves and sticks…all in a large yellow-painted metal frame.  Oops!

So, last year I decided to start all over again.  Across the street there was a yard sale, where they were giving away old pallets.  I collected several pallets and power washed them, and Ernie and I tied them together to make a large, 4-sided container.  Next, I researched compost…what can and cannot be composted…made a sign, and attached it to the compost pile so that everyone in our home would know what can and cannot be composted.  The concept is good!  We are moving slowly in the right direction.

Here is what our compost bin looks like, with the front section open:

It should also be mentioned that there are many commercial compost bins which speed up the composting process.  They tend to be expensive (mine was free), but I am told they speed up the composting process.  My suggestion if you are interested in trying one is to go to Job Lot first—they almost always have them at much lower prices than hardware and garden stores.

So, what can and cannot be composted?  First, you want to make sure you know just how much of a “purist” you are in terms of how organic your compost is.  In our case, we use organic lawn care, so anything from the lawn is ok (leaves, grass clippings).  Most of my produce is organic, so we go ahead and throw household produce in, even though some of it may not necessarily be organic—the amounts of chemicals and pesticides are so small as to be negligible or broken down in the heating process by the time the composting process is complete, so we don’t worry about the fact that some of what goes in may not be purely organic.  Most of it is.

The “basics” of composting are as follows (this is the totally nonscientific version):  You need some green matter (vegetable cuttings or grass clippings), some brown or dry matter (dryer lint, paper, or fall leaves), and oxygen.  A good combination produces heat, which breaks down the raw material and turns it into soil.  Some types of composting involve worms, which digest the raw material and eliminate it in the form of nitrogen-rich manure.  For the outdoor, pallet-type compost “bin” we were using, heat composting is the primary process; although worms tend to be located at the bottom of the pile. 

When composting, always try to add some green and dry matter at the same time, and turn your pile with a pitchfork every few weeks.  If you build a pallet container for your compost, it might be helpful to keep one side open or make it easy to untie so that you can swing it open to turn the compost to oxygenate it. 

That’s it.  Keep an eye on it, and when it is ready, use it.  I have spoken to some people who like to have two piles going—one actively being filled and one which is being used for soil.  It seems to be a well-thought-out solution, particularly for folks who have large amounts of land.

Our Compost sign is located below…how do you compost?  Just starting out?  Been doing it for years?  Comments are welcome!


Cow or horse poop
Pet poop (e.g., dog or cat poop, soiled cat litter)
Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
Toilet paper or paper towel rolls

Clean paper

Coffee grounds and filters

Cotton or Wool rags
(not polyester or other cloth)

Dryer lint

Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs
Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Wood Stove ashes
(Wood only, not plastic or other yucky stuff)
Coal or charcoal ash
Might contain substances harmful to plants
Fruits and vegetables
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
Grass clippings
Yard Trimmings
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
Release substances that might be harmful to plants
Diseased or insect-ridden plants
Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
Might kill beneficial composting organisms
Hair and fur

Hay and straw





Shredded Newspaper


Wood Chips


  1. Great Yes and No list! Hadn't thought of toilet paper rolls, paper and dryer lint as compostable.

  2. The dryer lint surprised me too, but it occured to me that it is a great way to cut back on landfill usage.


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