These guidelines are true for any compost, whether it’s done in a bin, in a pile, or in the ground. (More info: Compost Bins vs. Piles)
- Compost needs about 50% green ingredients, 50% brown ingredients, oxygen and water.
- “Green” is anything with moisture. It can be any color. Food scraps, grass, leaves, coffee grounds, (non-pet) manure…
- Green is nitrogen-rich.
- If there is too much green, it will get very stinky. If this is happening, add more brown. (Also, too much green means too much nitrogen, which means it could burn plants if it was used as fertilizer in this stinky form.)
- “Brown” is anything dry. Dry leaves, brown paper bags, wood chips, egg cartons…
- Brown is carbon-rich.
- It helps to cover the compost with a layer of only brown to keep the smell enclosed.
- The compost needs oxygen to work. That’s why it’s important to turn bins or flip piles when making compost, to let oxygen reach different parts of the compost. Also, make sure there is air circulating around the compost.
- The compost needs moisture, so add water to give it more oxygen and help it cook.
- No: No meat, dairy, fish, or animal food oils can go in the compost, unless it’s bokashi (More info: Compost Indoors or Meat & Dairy = BOKASHI). No pet waste because sometimes it has bacteria that can survive the heat of the pile.
- Shrinkage: Whatever size the compost starts out, it will end up being much smaller when it’s done. (Sort of like cooking fresh spinach)
- Organic: If you’re trying to make organic compost, make sure yard trimmings you use (fresh grass, brown leaves, etc) come from a yard that doesn’t use pesticides. Anything that is non-organic, we still compost in our city’s green bin.
- Chop it: We chop up twigs and branches with shears before adding them to the compost. Making everything into smaller pieces helps the compost digest more quickly and easily, like chewing for our tummies.
IT COOKS INTO CLEANLINESS
A few years ago, a farmer friend of mine taught me that compost piles get hot and they are actually cooking the carbon-rich brown & nitrogen-rich green scraps. They get so hot, about 140 degrees, that the creatures one might worry about staying inside the pile (bad bacteria, bugs and any rodents who might smell tasty treats inside the pile) can’t live there anymore. It’s too hot so they leave. Pretty cool, huh? (Pun inaccurate and not intended.)
When a pile is flipped, sometimes there is ash inside. A pile covered in winter snow will still cook and sometimes steam will still rise off of the covering snow! The Hollywood Orchard hosts a 6th grade field trip for the local school and a few days before the kids come, they put an egg and potato inside the compost so when the kids arrive, they can see the egg is hard-boiled and then play hot-potato with the weird stinky potato!
When the compost has been turned a few times to allow the whole thing to cook, there will be only good bacteria and healthy, nutrient-rich compost.
WHAT TO COMPOST
- No meat, dairy or animal products (bones, butter, fish skins) or pet waste
- Fruits & veggies
- Peels, skins & cores of fruits & veggies
- Herbs & spices
- Coffee Grounds
- Egg shells
- Pits & seeds
- Grains & beans
- Tea bags without the staples
- Chemical-free hair
- Chemical-free fingernails
- Feathers from the down sofa or birds outside
- Fresh house plant leaves
- Store-bought flower bouquets (only for the city green bin if your goal is organic)
- Shredded brown paper bags
- Paper egg cartons
- Toilet paper rolls
- Brown, dry leaves (you can get them from parks sometimes, ideally they’d be from a pesticide-free yard)
- Vacuum cleaner or sweeping dust
- Ash from a firepit that used wood
- Dry house plant leaves
- Wood chips (ideally chemical-free/ non-treated)
COLLECT THE COMPOST
Collect your food scraps in the freezer or fridge, so they don’t smell or attract bugs. You can keep them in glass or plastic tupperware, or you have regular plastic bags, you can use those and wash them out and re-use them. Or use compostable bags. Or to create less waste, you can keep them in a bowl with no lid or a brown paper bag that can be tossed in to the compost.
You can also collect scraps in a smell-absorbing compost bucket on your counter-top. (We use this one. During the summer ant-parades, we keep it in the fridge.)
WHERE TO COMPOST
When you’re ready to compost, put your food scraps and brown compostable waste in:
- your yard in a compost pile above ground
- a pit in the ground with or without doors to seal it
- a fenced in compost area
- a plastic compost bin that turns
- a wooden compost bin that allows for air circulation
- a homemade compost trashcan with holes drilled in the sides
More information on this part of the process: How to Compost in Bins & Piles
NO ROOM? PUT YOUR FOOD SCRAPS IN…
- your green or brown bin from the city
- your indoor or outdoor worm bin (no acidic food or oils)
- an indoor bokashi compost bucket
- your friend’s compost
- the compost collection of a community organization, farmer’s market or restaurant that accepts compost. (See more info below)
- a compost hub
- a compost co-op
For folks in Los Angeles:
- LA Compost collects food scraps at:
It seems like it’s possible that everyone can participate in some part of the compost cycle. But getting started may be difficult without seeing the magic in action. In my experience, composting can a passionate team sport or an invigorating ice-skating solo. Reading about it may be all you need to start on your own, but it can also be helpful to find some experienced folks who will let you watch their process or answer questions about how they do it. You could also find a free class or offer to temporarily help a community garden with their compost. I learn so much by helping flip the pile every so often at our beloved Hollywood Orchard.
If you want to do it in a group, there may be compost hubs or compost co-ops near you that you can join.
Whether working with others or solo, I suggest trying to get comfy with the idea that trial and error is part of the process no matter what, and it can be exciting and beautiful.
For folks in Los Angeles:
- The City gives some free workshops and discounted compost bins and worm bins.
- Kiss the Ground also has free compost workshops sometimes, listed on their FB page.
- Grow Good gives free classes from time to time. This LA Times article has more info.
- The Burbank Recycle Center has a free compost workshop the last Wednesday of every month from 6-8pm from March – November, you just have to RSVP.
- The Hollywood Orchard in Beachwood Canyon offers opportunities to work on their compost pile where the compost-curious can learn via hand-on practice. Join the Hollywood Orchard mailing list and ask to be informed of when we get together to work on our compost pile, then come play in the dirt with us!
WHEN TO COMPOST
Whenever you’d like. Composting can seem tricky, but I feel like you’ll know when you’re ready. To me, love is the main ingredient. Add some to the compost, and some to yourself. It lets you keep trying until you figure out what works for you.