What Are Your Favorite Compost Materials?

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I wish I could source compost pile materials from our yard. But lead and zinc contamination in our soil make that a dodgy proposition without doing a lot of expensive lab tests. And I never seem to have enough materials even for our modest vegetable garden. So in the past I’ve used:

  • horse bedding
  • chicken manure from our own chickens
  • alfalfa hay (kinda spendy these days)
  • straw (takes a long time to break down)
  • spent grain from a local brewery
  • vegetable scraps from the farmer’s market

Once again I’ve got to build another pile and I’m interested in hearing from readers about compostibles you’ve used. Do you have a good source for stuff to compost? What are some of the things you’ve managed to scavenge? Comments!

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  1. I scored two huge bags of sawdust from a furniture making shop last fall. It was pure birch sawdust, and it broke down nice and quick in my compost pile. It’s not a steady source but I was still thrilled to find it!

  2. Some of our local coffee shops that serve organic, fair trade coffees and teas will collect their used coffee grounds and tea leves for you if you ask. Some actually bag the stuff up and leave the bags next to the door for customers to take away with them.

  3. Seaweed collected from beaches around Dublin bay, my dad uses it all over his garden as well as in the compost piles. Brilliant and free accelerator 🙂

  4. I still have a lot of lawn left, so mower clippings are good. My Dad insists on raking up all the leaves that fall in his yard every fall so I help him bag them and then take them home. And I do compost things like those cardboard-y berry boxes when I have them, also paper towel and toilet paper tubes, and even paper towels that haven’t been used with soap. (Yes, I still struggle with a paper towel addiction.)

  5. I get coffee grounds from 2 local coffee shops. Both of them were just putting it in the trash.
    This year I plan to till them in the garden along with some composted horse manure, then cover with 4″+ of wood chips, and let it work over the winter.
    In the spring, open a row in the chips and plant in the soil. Backfill with the chips as the plants grow.

  6. What I’m composting is mostly leaves from the three live oaks on our property and grass clippings from the lawn as well as kitchen and garden scraps including egg shells and tea bags. So far, that seems to be plenty; but then we currently have a backlog of leaves that were just sitting around.

  7. Fallen leaves, grass clippings, chicken house litter, goat house litter, bunny droppings, straw and the trimmings and culls from the vegetable garden that the animals won’t eat.

  8. I was surprised but when I asked no one else was taking scraps from my daughter’s school. So each day I take home one or two 5 gallon buckets of food scraps from feeding 300 little Montessori kids. I compost it at home mixed with stockpiled autumn leaves in two “bins” made of straw bales. It cranked up to 160 degrees this summer and even with adding 400 egg shells at once or a bunch of citrus rinds the finished compost was uniform. Also, our household scraps go to our chickens, but then their bedding is added to the bins to compost. The piles drew black soldier flies for awhile this summer but then I had handfuls of larvae to feed back to the chickens!

  9. Don’t have enough stuff for a regular compost pile and my HOA won’t allow one anyway so…I make instant compost from my kitchen waste. Anything not meat or grease goes into a blender with cooking liquid (like pasta water) or collected rain water, gets blended well and then goes into one of 20 or so Earthboxes & planters. Mostly gone after 3-4 days and completely gone in a week.

    • That’s a really, really clever idea! I have a shared balcony garden that the co-gardeners won’t allow a compost bin on, but blended kitchen scraps straight into the planters might just be the trick!

  10. Grass clippings, leaves, sawdust from the firewood my DH scavenges (a surprising amount of usable wood ends up on the curb in our rust-belt city), and–our secret weapon–llama manure from a herd owned by friends. Nothing beats 2-year-old “llama beans,” and it’s entirely possible to put several muck buckets full in the back of a Honda CRV and be merely pleasantly entertained by the smell. As the saying goes, “Their s–t don’t stink.”

  11. I take a covered bowl to church and get the coffee grounds from the big percolator every week. I also take leftover coffee and dilute it to pour into the compost or around my blueberry bushes.

  12. I have a neighbor that has something like 14 biodynamic vegetable beds, he dumpster dove vegan restaurants.. as for myself, I’ve got bunny litter, a lot of household vege/fruit compost, and all the brown stuff from the front yard and avocado tree in the back. We just cleared what must’ve been two tons of material from the whole front yard. An elderly neighbor commented to me as we were cleaning, ‘You let it go a little too long.” 😛

  13. I know this next trick won’t really work for you SoCal types, but it’s almost time to start leaf-grass mulching. The leaves are already starting to fall, though the main dump is still a little ways off here. I stopped cutting the grass two weeks ago and will not cut it again until all the leaves are down. I’ll move some leaves from areas where there are a lot to areas with none. Then I cut it all with the push mower and use the bag – the only time of year I do so – to collect compost gold. The mower makes a nice mix of the carbon- and nitrogen-rich materials. When piled up in a big wide pile it cooks itself down pretty quickly. Even though we’ve eradicated a lot of lawn, there’s still a fairly sizable track where we rotate the hens. So I know that nitrogen-rich grass is REALLY nitrogen rich from all the chicken poop. All good for the compost.

    Other than that, parsnips that sprout and grow at the wrong time of year, thus never being harvest size in winter, are great biomass plants. We had a crap ton of them this year.

    BTW, I built one of your compost bins this summer. It’s a two-banger. It’s really nice finally having *plenty* of room for all the compost materials. Thanks for including that project in your book.

  14. I use shredded brown cardboard and I also shred paper bags from Trader Joe’s. I’m a bit worried about the glue in the cardboard because there seems to be conflicting research out there, but until I find another source of browns I’m going to stick with it.

  15. Must confess that as someone with an apple orchard in BC, Canada at this time of year I add a fair amount of ‘bear manure’ to my compost pile. They eat my apples at night and leave huge piles of ‘semi-digested’ apple on my lawn so why not…..?

  16. I have been known to talk the produce managers of a few grocery stores out of large piles of green waste from trimming and from produce that was past its prime. They are not allowed to give it away, but I’ve gotten enough to fill 6 5-gallon buckets for $1.

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