Published on 05/04/06

Good compost starts with the right ingredients

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

If you’d like to start a compost bin but aren’t sure what to do, here are some tips from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension specialists.

To start the composting process, you need the right combination of brown and green items. The microorganisms that do the composting work need an even mixture to survive.

Brown compost materials include dry and dead plant materials, autumn leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper and wood chips. These items provide carbon.

Green compost materials include fresh plant products, like kitchen fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grounds and tea bags. They provide nitrogen.

UGA Cooperative Extension specialist Bob Westerfield says the key is to have more brown items than green. The ratio should be 3:1. The easy way to remember this is three parts brown to one part green.

Knowing what not to put in your compost bin is important, too. Don’t add meats, bones, grease or other animal-based food waste. They can smell bad and attract raccoons and opossums.

Don’t add cat or dog manure, either. It can smell bad and may introduce diseases. (Manures from horses, cows and chickens are OK, but don’t use too much. You don’t want your backyard smelling like a barnyard.)

To begin composting, place your first brown and green mixture in your bin and mix thoroughly.

The composting microbes need air and water, too. Turn the pile at least twice a month to make sure it gets the essential oxygen it needs. And if rainfall doesn’t provide moisture, add water if it looks too dry.

Over time, rich compost will form at the bottom of the pile. When you’re ready to use your compost, just move the freshest items on top to the side and dig out some compost from underneath.

The compost on the bottom of your pile will be ready to use in a few months. Then you can use it as mulch or add it to a potting mix. Or steep it in a porous bag for 30 minutes to several hours to create a nutrient-rich compost tea for your plants.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.