HomePosts Tagged "compost"

What can be composted?

  • Leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Brush trimmings
  • Manure (preferably organic)
  • Any non-animal food scraps: fruits, vegetables, peelings, bread, cereal, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags (preferably minus the staples)
  • Old wine
  • Pet bedding from herbivores ONLY — rabbits, hamsters, etc.
  • Dry cat or dog food
  • Dust from sweeping and vacuuming
  • Dryer lint
  • Old herbs and spices

Today, we’re talking dry leaves. Ready? Let’s!


A gardening enthusiast, whether it be for commercial or personal use, often incorporates compost in hopes for the best results possible for their crops. Compost is created through a natural process when recycling organic material turns into a rich supplement for the soil. It’s so good for gardening that it’s been nicknamed by some as “black gold”.

However, compost can be rather costly to purchase, averaging in most areas about $25 to $35 per cubic foot. And, if you have a large garden area, that can add up very quickly.

So, many people turn to making their own compost. In fact, there are several tools available to help make your own. But, what if you want a lot of it for spring planting, and you are entering the cold winter months?

Fortunately, you can make compost even in the winter…and lots of it. And, it’s easy and it only requires 2 ingredients! One is fallen leaves, which are abundant heading into winter. If you don’t have your own, a trip down the road you might spot several brown bags stuffed with leaves, just waiting to be picked up. If you ask, they probably won’t mind if you pick them up, rather than the garbage truck.

The other ingredient is used coffee grounds.

Composting Leaves with Coffee Grounds

You should first determine how many leaves and coffee grounds you will need. So, plan out what you will be planting in the spring to gauge how big of an area you will need. I will be doing a very small area for the purpose of demonstration in this article. But, even for a relatively small garden, start collecting leaves ahead of time.

Now, on to the coffee grounds. I doubt too many of you drink enough coffee to gather up the amount of coffee grounds you will need for this project…unless you start collecting months prior to composting.

I called our local Starbucks to see if they would collect a couple days worth of used coffee grounds for me. I fully expected them to be confused. But apparently, they save used coffee grounds for gardeners. If your local Starbucks does not save these, call another one nearby, or any coffee house. You can stop in there a few times a week to collect their grounds, if you are hoping for a large garden. So, not only is this composting easy, but it’s free!

The Basics of the Composting

Composting takes a little bit of “brown” and a little bit of “green” to create a rich supplement for gardening. Dried, or fallen leaves fall into the “brown” category, while the coffee grounds play the role of “green”. Yes, even though coffee grounds are actually brown, and leaves are often green.

The “brown” in composting is producing carbon, and the “green” brings the nitrogen. And, both are necessary components for the compost to thrive. Organic matter will eventually compost down without help in time…lots of time. However, not everyone wants to wait that long.

The Process of Composting with Leaves and Coffee Grounds

It’s a very simple process. The hardest part just might be deciding where you want to put it. But, a good option would be right where you plan on planting in the spring. The leaves and coffee ratio is 4 to 1 parts. So, if you have a lot of material, use a shovel to make it easy.


Make a layer (remember 4:1 ratio) of leaves on the ground, or in a shallow and long bin or a raised garden bed. Sprinkle, or use a shovel to make a layer of used coffee grounds over the leaves. Lightly sprinkle the pile with water, unless you are starting with a wet pile. Repeat each step until you run out of material, or think you have enough. Make sure that each layer is damp as you go. Just remember, as it goes through the process, the pile will appear to shrink. Once you have your pile all set, turn the pile every few days. Check to make sure it looks and smells fine, and isn’t drying out too much. If it is, dampen it again. You could also start with mulched leaves, which will significantly speed up the composting process. However, if you are going to use mulched leaves, change the ratio from 4:1 part, to 1:1 part.

Extra Tips in Composting

There are other “browns” you could use in place of or in addition to leaves, such as:

  • Shredded paper/cardboard
  • Hay
  • Mulch
  • Wood chips

And other “greens” that could be used in place or in addition to used coffee grounds include:

  • Vegetable
  • Vegetable or fruit peels and skins
  • Used coffee filters
  • Manure
  • Tea bags
  • Grass clippings


However, using any of the following is NOT recommended:

  • Pet fecal matter or waste
  • Meats or bones
  • Fats or oils
  • Dairy
  • Diseased plants
  • Anything with pesticides

Pay attention to the smell of the pile. It should have an earthy aroma. If it starts smelling bad, add more nitrogen, or “green”. Also, pay attention to the texture. If it’s slimy, add more carbon, or “brown”. Don’t confuse slimy with dampness. You want it to be damp, just not slimy.

Winter Composting

Even though the process will slow down in really cold regions, that’s OK. You should continue to add some “brown” and “green” to the pile every occasionally throughout the winter, even if it freezes. It will thaw eventually, and the thawing and freezing ebb and flow will contribute to the compost breaking down faster come springtime.

In the spring, throw some hay over the pile to help protect it until you are ready to use it, because it will let off an aroma when thawing, attracting critters.

Use it within the soil when you plant your spring crop.

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What can be composted? Leaves Grass clippings Brush trimmings Manure (preferably organic) Any non-animal food scraps: fruits, vegetables, peelings, bread, cereal, coffee grounds and filters, tea leaves and tea bags

This guide will walk you through the basics of some simple ingredients you can add that will help take your compost to the next level.

But first, it’s important to eat a healthy meal before you get started. Let’s start with a healthy breakfast. Load up the coffee maker – a whole pot sounds just fine. Like tea instead? OK, make some tea then. Crack a few eggs and cook them up in any style you want, then put some whole wheat bread in the toaster. Serve that up on a paper plate, with paper napkins, since there’s no time for doing dishes – we’re composting today. Remember how your doctor always wants you eating your fruits and veggies? Go the extra mile! Peel a banana, de-stem some kale, and chop the tops off a few strawberries, put them in your blender and make a smoothie. Eat that up, and then we’ll get started.

Or have we already started? All of the items we just discussed in our healthy breakfast are also a part of a healthy compost pile. No, you don’t need to serve up those microorganisms with an omelet, but they would like those egg shells, and they’ll break down any leftover bread from your toast. In fact, if the loaf goes stale or moldy, you can throw the whole thing in your compost pile, turn it a few times, and you’ll have that to add to your garden. Coffee grounds, and the leftover coffee you didn’t drink, are also good food for them, as is tea (with or without the bag), and any leftover veggie products, like the kale stems or strawberry heads. You can add any paper goods, including your paper plate and your napkin (although you’ll want to start using the kind of paper plates that are not coated in a plasticc substance, as it will break down very slowly, if at all).

Compost is, essentially, a dirt and a fertilizer. All fertilizers in the US are rated using an NPK (nitrogen – phosphorus – potassium) scale. These are the three basic ingredients that help our plants to grow, and so it is essential that your soil has them – plants will use them up as they grow. Banana peels are extremely heavy in potassium, just as bananas themselves are full of potassium for humans. Coffee grounds contain significant amounts of nitrogen, and while egg shells are also nitrogen heavy, they contain a lot of calcium, which is as important for plants as it is for human bones. Speaking of bones, bone meal is the primary way of introducing phosphorus to your garden, although it is not recommended that you add too many to your compost, as residual meat attached to the bones will attract critters. You could add some manure to your compost, particularly horse manure, especially if you are already raising animals on your property.

Here are some additional tips for working items into your compost pile:

– My compost pile is not so much a compost “pile” as a compost bin collection. I have a pile for items that break down very slowly (woody plants, rotted planks of wood, cardboard, etc.), but my usual compost bin is a black garbage can I bought from the hardware store. With this, I don’t need to spend an hour digging in and turning my compost – I can simply ensure that the lid is on tight, turn my can sideways, and roll it around on my lawn a few times, and it will be well-mixed. The black color also ensures that my compost heats up quickly (all compost will get warm as things break down, but maintaining that heat makes it go quickly).

– Many gardeners like to sift their compost prior to using it. With a simple rectangular frame and a medium grain mesh material, you can create a sifter that will allow only the fully decomposed materials to fall out, while items that are not entirely done decomposing can be caught by the mesh and added back into your pile. Alternatively, you could just add the non-decomposed material to your garden and allow it to break down in place (there’s no magic to the pile, it just tends to be faster). The best method, in my opinion, is just to maintain multiple bins or piles, and allow the material to decompose over a longer period of time.

– When disposing of hard items, like those egg shells, if you blend them first in your blender with a little water, that will chop them up into little bits, which is ideal – the smaller the individual pieces of trash are, the faster they will decompose.

– Water, coffee, or tea is essential for a compost. It shouldn’t be drowning, but it should never be left dry. Coffee is a dessicant, so the liquid will not last long.

– If you’re tired of waiting around for your compost to decompose, and you feel like you need it quicker, bag the grass when you mow the lawn. Grass clippings make quick work of even the most durable and hardest-to-compost material. Don’t have grass? Add a bit of good garden soil, as it already contains many microorganisms, or a bit of compost from a bagged source. This will jump start your new pile. Many hardware stores offer a “quick start” powder you can add to your compost ingredients, and while it does work, it can be difficult to maintain the acceleration if your compost isn’t already balanced. Grass clippings are a much better alternative, because they are still quick, but they wear out over time instead of expiring quickly, and they’re free.

– Bugs are A-OK. Animals…not so much. Usually, animals will not be attracted to a compost pile unless there’s something in there that there probably shouldn’t be. Dairy products, like milk, eggs or cheese are fine in limited quantities, but if used in excess, will cause your compost to smell, which does tend to attract more bugs and animals. Meat products, while they will decompose and add some beneficial nutrients to soil, will attract raccoons and skunks, as well as other undesirable animals. That’s never a good idea.

– In the fall, instead of bagging the leaves that fall from the trees on your property, add them to a compost bin or pile. Leaves are slow to compost, but if added to a bin with heavy items inside, a simple rotation will break them apart. By mid-summer, these will be ready for use.

– Finally, like a balanced diet, you want a variety of items in your compost pile. Lettuces, grasses, cardboard, wood chips or shavings, sawdust, coffee grounds, dirt, fruit peels or leftovers, breads, knobby ends of zucchinis or other squashes, tomato stems, weeds, expired blossoms, and pretty much any other organic (once-living) landscape material are good additions.

This guide will walk you through the basics of some simple ingredients you can add that will help take your compost to the next level. But first, it’s important to eat