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August 7th, 2012

Green + Brown = Compost

I have lots of kitchen scraps (eggshells, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peelings) but cannot figure out how to develop compost out of it. Everything I’ve read says to add green and brown such as dried leaves and green grass to it. I need to figure out some sort of ratio. But how?

blog-dougBooks have been written on the topic of making compost; my current favorite is Compost Gardening by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin. It represents a wealth of wisdom and practical experience on a topic that, when it comes down to it, is really quite simple. The decomposition of organic matter into compost is going to happen whether you’re measuring and manipulating the materials in a pile or not. “Compost happens,” as the tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker says.

The ratio you’re referring to is the balance of carbon-rich materials (or “brown” ingredients, such as straw, shredded paper, sawdust, and dry leaves) to nitrogen-rich materials (the “greens,” including your kitchen scraps, manure, and fresh grass clippings or weeds). In theory, a proper balance of these ingredients makes for a fast and efficient compost pile. In practice, however, most gardeners add whatever organic debris we have on hand to our compost piles without giving much thought to the carbon-nitrogen ratio. We end up with compost, too, even if it takes longer than it would with a perfectly managed pile.

You can layer your kitchen scraps with dry leaves or other “browns” in a pile or bin. Or you can try pit composting, a technique that involves digging holes or trenches in the garden (often between rows of vegetables or in fallow areas of the garden), depositing your kitchen scraps in the ground, and immediately covering them with soil. The scraps break down quickly—and you don’t have to worry about getting the ratio right.

For more information about how to make and use compost, you’ll find a great collection of articles and videos on this website.  —Doug Hall

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