Compost hokey pokey- what goes in and what stays out


"You put your green scraps in, you keep the meat out, you put your brown scraps in, you leave the dairy out. You do the hokey-pokey and stir the compost 'round, and that's what it's all about!" Thinking of starting up a backyard compost bin or want to get the most from the one you have? For a healthy compost bin, put in an equal amount of green and brown organic waste. That balance helps to maintain the ideal moisture level and the right ratio of nitrogen to carbon to help decomposer organisms get the job done turning waste into compost.

The following information is an excerpt from the soon-to-be released RCR workshop on composting- more details here! The full workshop includes information on vermicomposting too, so keep an eye out for upcoming posts on that.

Put these things in your backyard compost bin:

Browns provide carbon (energy for decomposer organisms) and they are dry and fibrous. Greens provide nitrogen (for decomposer organisms' growth & reproduction) and they are fresh and moist.
  • paper  (shredded or ripped up small)
    • white paper
    • newspaper
    • boxboard like from cereal and cracker boxes
    • egg cartons
    • drink trays
    • paper towel and toilet paper rolls
    • napkins and paper towels
    • coffee filters
    • tea bags
  • dried leaves
  • dried grass clippings
  • grain foods (cooked or dry; without any sauce or oil)
    • pasta
    • rice
    • bread
    • other grains

Note: As with fruits and vegetables, it is best to put in the smallest grain food pieces possible. Grains like rice are already perfect, but whole pieces of bread should be broken up smaller. Large grain products may start to mold before they are broken down if they are put in whole.

  • twigs, stalks and branches (broken up very small)
  • floor sweepings
  • pet and human hair
  • pet bedding like wood chips and paper
  • dryer lint (but not if perfumed dryer sheets were used)
  • sawdust from untreated wood
  • peat moss
  • chopped up straw
  • ashes from untreated wood
  • tea leaves
  • coffee grinds
  • fruits peels and scraps cut up small
  • vegetable peels and scraps cut up small

Note: The smaller you cut up fruits and vegetables before adding them to compost, the easier it will be for decomposers to break them down. To get finished compost faster put in smaller items. Large items like oranges may start to mold before they are broken down so avoid adding them whole.

  • fresh grass clippings
  • fresh garden waste like pulled weeds and trimmings
  • manure
  • pet droppings (not from cats or dogs, but rabbit and hamster droppings are okay)
  • fresh hay
  • egg shells

Note: Before adding eggshells rinse them out and crumble them up small, being careful of their sharp edges. Do not add eggshells if the egg has been boiled in them.

  • seaweed

Note: Seaweed has been traditionally used in Newfoundland and Labrador for composting and it is an excellent addition to your bin. As with other organic matter, if it is in large pieces then it is best to break it up smaller before adding it to your compost so that it will decompose faster.

Leave these things out of your backyard compost bin:

*Some of the items are compostable but they may attract pests, take a really long time to decompose or give off unpleasant odours, so they are best avoided when backyard composting.

  • meat, fish, poultry
  • bones
  • dairy, including cheese and yogurt
  • fats (including grease, oil, lard, butter, margarine, or mayonnaise)
  • sauces and dressings

Note: Traditionally people in Newfoundland and Labrador did use some of the above items for their compost, especially small fish like capelin and the leftovers from processing larger fish like cod. However, using them in your backyard or vermicompost could be problematic because they may attract pests and could give off unpleasant odours. Commercially-made compost often has fish offal in it because it has been made on a farm or in a facility that can manage those issues. If you want fish-based compost because of its beneficial properties, it is best to purchase some rather than making it at home.

  • Eggshells that eggs have been boiled in: they break down very slowly and could begin to smell.
  • Bulky items like tree branches, pieces of wood or thick cardboard that will take up a lot of space and decompose very slowly.
  • Weeds that have gone to seed- composting may not kill the seeds and they could germinate and spread when you use the finished compost.
  • Dog and cat waste- they may have pathogens in them that are harmful to humans.
  • Plants that have had pesticide treatment or are diseased- the pesticides or disease could affect your garden when you use the finished compost.
  • Coniferous tree clippings, Christmas trees and pine cones- they break down very slowly.
  • Glossy or wax-coated papers
  • Vacuum fill or other sources of synthetic fibres- carpet fibres are usually not organic and will not break down.
  • Non-organic materials such as glass and metals

Do you put something else in your backyard compost bin that we've missed? Leave a comment below!