I'm starting trying start my first compost. I keep seeing a carbon to
nitrogen ratio of 30:1. Is that by weight or volume? Most kitchen
scrap is nitrogen so that's the one I have plenty of but that's the
low part of the 30:1 ratio. Winter just thawed out and I have bunch of
dried grass on my lawn. Grass clipping is considered green, but is
dried grass considered brown (besides the fact that it looks brown)?
Can I dry "green" things out and it turns to brown material? Seems
like brown is harder to generate in that quantity than green material
since lawn is mulched, but is needed in vastly greater quantities.
Even using newspaper, that's a lot of newspaper compared to how much
kitchen scrap is generated daily. There's no way I can compost all my
kitchen scrap. I know people talk about straw and hay, but those
things are bulky and I don't have room to store a bale of hay until
kitchen scrap catches up nor do I have a compost bin large enough for
that much hay. What are people using for brown material? Maybe I could
start spread chopped up kitchen scraps on my lawn and let it do its
thing. I kid.
It is not complex once you get started. Some folks get lost in
particulars others in generalities. I favor the latter.
Garden in shade zone 5 S Jersey USA
MaCain in 2038 !!
Following up to the OP thru you as your and jangchub's replies remind
me of cat daddy's classic response......
"Spread it on the ground, pile it up, add stuff or not....... Just
don't bag it up and throw it away. It's all good." cat daddy
On Wed, 9 Apr 2008 12:50:28 -0700 (PDT), firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
I drive around the neighborhood and take all the bags of leaves set
out very neatly by the neighbors. They are anal retentive and bag the
leaves instead of just using a mulching blade. So, that's where I get
more than enough brown. If there are no neighbor bags of leaves,
spend two dollars and buy a bag of shredded tree mulch and layer it in
with the green. No you can't turn green into brown with grass. You
can with leaves for some reason, but grass no.
On Wed, 9 Apr 2008 12:50:28 -0700 (PDT), email@example.com wrote:
I don't know any gardeners who weigh or measure their compost. It's
not rocket science. Try to have 50/50 of brown/green. If your pile is
not giving off steam and smelling "earthy," something is not right. I
havn't had much luck composting newspaper, but I don't buy newspaper
anymore since I read online. You can shred newspaper and use as brown
All good advices. Two reasons I'm asking about composting the "right"
way is because A) I don't want it to start stinking by having too much
nitrogen and B) I want to minimize the time so I can start using it
this summer. Being an engineer I tend to overthink things. No, it's
not rocket science, but I'm sure some ratios are better than others so
I'm trying to learn from other's experiences from the start instead of
trial and error on my own.
Just so I have an idea, is that 50/50 brown/green by weight? Would
make sense since it's the amount of material that would be working
with each other. That 30:1 ratio is probably by volume because brown
is so much lighter. We probably generate a few pounds of green each
day. That's a lot of leaves I have to keep around to keep up with the
green since brown is so light...Perhaps once I get the pile going it
would regulate itself so I don't have to worry so much about what I'm
Any mixture will eventually rot into perfectly good compost given enough
time. If there is not enough nitrogen in the pile, it will just take longer
because the bacteria population will be limited by the amount of nitrogen
It won't get stinky unless it goes anaerobic, so just make sure the pile can
breath well enough. There are lots of ways to do this: keeping the pile
smaller, adding materials with a lot of "structure" (like hedge or woody
shrub trimmings, stalks from last year's sunflowers, etc.), or turning the
pile frequently. Big piles of grass clippings or wet leaves tend to mat
together and reduce aeration. Mixing a whole bunch of different things
together helps avoid that.
During much of the year my pile gets essentially nothing but kitchen scraps
added to it, but during that part of the year the pile is small so it still
breaths and has never gotten stinky. During other parts of the year I have a
huge excess of "browns" (e.g. shrub trimmings, autumn leaves), which just
slows the decomposition down a bit, but everything works out in the end. The
only thing that would keep it from decomposing entirely was if the pile
dried out and stayed dry.
There are three different groups of decomposition bacteria that are
maximally active at different temperatures:
psychrophilic -- 32-50 degrees or something like that
mesophyllic -- 70-90 degrees
thermophilic -- ~140 degrees
I probably have the exact temps wrong but you get the idea. The theory that
if you don't have heat and steam, something is wrong, is IMO not true. It
just means you are not in the temperature zone of the thermophiles. If you
want really fast decomposition, yes then you need to get the thermophiles
busy, which means getting enough nitrogen in and a large enough pile so you
can have a bacteria population boom and retain the heat. (A book I read on
composting recommended animal manure for nitrogen.) The high temperature
also helps kill weed seeds and other pathogens. However, if you did not put
weedy, diseased inputs into the pile, this is not that important, and this
same book claimed that the finished compost that retains the most nutrients
is that which is mainly produced by a mesophyllic decomposition. If the pile
is small (~less than two cubic yards), it can't retain enough heat to get
the thermophiles going and you will get mesophyllic decomposition when the
weather is warm enough, and psychrophilic (very slow) when it is colder.
Another problem with thermophilic piles is the temperature kills many
desirable soil organisms, other decomposition bacteria, and those wonderful
decomposition workers known as red worms. Finally, if you have a
well-aerated pile that is large and well-insulated enough, it can actually
catch on fire from thermophiloc decomposition -- so if you are going for
hot, make sure the pile is in a safe place! (If you have a small pile and
really want to achieve thermophilic decomposition, the same book recommended
covering the entire pile with a six-inch layer of soil to help insulate it.
Good soil -- such as soil you have been adding finished compost to for
several years -- also contains significant nitrogen and a broad array of
The short of it, in my experience, is just throw whatever you have into the
pile and don't worry about it. Turn it once in a while if it needs aeration,
and water it once in a while if you have a dry spell. Nature will take care
of the rest for you.
On Wed, 9 Apr 2008 18:36:54 -0700 (PDT), firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
I over think as well, but compost is not hard. The ratio is not by
weight, it's by volulme. I don't think 50/50 is a good ratio by
volume UNLESS you will be able to keep the pile relatively dry and
turn it every three days or so. The more you turn a pile, the faster
it will turn into humus which you can use on the soil.
Volume not weight.
Oh, not really. Newsprint has a C:N ratio of somewhere over
400. That means they can balance 5-10 times as much 'green'
material as can autumn leaves or straw!
I use leaves which I pick up all around town in the fall, shred
and compact into contractor-grade bags, and store way in the
back for use in mulching and composting the next year.
I also use shredded paper (if the leaf supply is running low).
Wood chips are also a good (and very 'brown') ingredient.
They will make the compost mix a bit 'airier' (less apt to
This table might be useful:
Pat in Plymouth MI ('someplace.net' is comcast)
Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.
Again, thank you for all the good suggestions. This newsgroup has been
the most active and helpful I've visited in recent years (after all
the spam bot activity got heavy and newsgroup popularity declined).
I'm getting more confident now. After I read the first responses, I
searched google again using different terms and realized the 30:1
ratio is not volume or weight, but the actual carbon and nitrogen
content. I wish the web sites I came across first were more clear.
They made it sound like C:N ratio is the same as brown:green ratio
(implied by saying that some things are brown and others are green)
when in fact there's no brown:green ratio because not all materials
are created equal and everything is shades of brown and green. I did
come across the Cornell site last night and the light went off in my
head. Very exciting stuff (for me at least). Thanks you all again.
I can't believe you said that!
I had a neighborhood cafe that saved their salad/veggie scraps for me, I
picked up one or two 5 gallon buckets every night on my way home from work.
I dumped this on my compost piles along with my kitchen scraps, it wasn't
"too much". I had 3 compost bins; one by the back kitchen door, one in the
veggie garden and one behind the garage. They got whatever was at hand in
the close proximity tossed on them while I worked in the garden. Just
depended on what time of the year it was as to what was tossed on. The only
thing I didn't use were lawn clippings. I had eliminated every blade of
grass on my property, I personally see no reason for 30 gazillion little
high maintenence plants that all look the same, I don't DO lawn. Kitchen
scraps, trimmings, prunings, the rubble from garden grooming, leaves,
fireplace ash, all tossed on in the random order of appearance, a son
occasionally "dampening the pile" (Don't you dare walk through the house
with those dirty shoes!) while out doing garden chores, it worked. No
recipes, no weights and measures, none of them stunk, they all produced fine
Find somebody with a good old compost pile and wheedle a shovelful from that
pile and toss it on yours, that will help start yours up. Toss on all those
scraps and once in a while sprinkle a shovelful of garden soil over yours if
you think it's getting mucky. When you are working in your garden walk over
with a pitchfork and give it a few jabs and twists to stir things up a bit
and give it a breath of air. Maybe shred up that precise recipe for compost
while you're at it and toss that into the pile as well. Loosen up your
anally engineered sphincter, man. You said it...this isn't really rocket
science. If you really want *immediate* compost go buy a bag and then use
what you're making when it's ready. Otherwise just kick back and let it rot,
have a beer, relax. A compost pile is never 'done', you just eventually
harvest what's ripe and it continues on doing what it's supposed to do. It's
alive, it rots, it's compost.
That was under the assumption that I needed 30 times the brown
material for my kitchen scrap. I have since learned that it is not
true. I'm just trying to learn. It might be easy for you because you
know how to do it. Last time I tried I thought I could just throw
kitchen scrap in a bin outsife. Well, it turned out to be a giant pile
of rotten garbage. I guess it was still technically a compost heap,
but it's not the way I (or my neighbors) preferred to do it.I didn't
know about brown and green or carbon and nitrogen. Even those the
composting process is very forgiving and no right or wrong way,
there's still good ways and bad ways of doing it.
Wouldn't have my sphincter engineered any other way. That part works
just fine, unlike my previous attempt at composting.
None of the web sites said anything about beer being part of
composting. I like your method much better!
On Thu, 10 Apr 2008 11:20:00 -0500, Charlie wrote:
What about female urine, which can contain the chemicals -- hormones;
birth control pills; other "products" excreted by many females --
that are now said to be causing distorted development among
marine mammals and fish who live in waters that have
received these toilet flushings
On Sat, 12 Apr 2008 16:46:06 -0700, Persephone wrote:
Good point. Dammit, I know about the situation with excreted drugs in
water supplies,, but didn't *even* extrapolate that to direct
application in the garden.
My only excuse was thinking of myself personally and knowing that my
urine doesn't contain any drugs, other than herbals. And I guess
whatever toxins I unknowingly or unavoidably ingest.
Thanks. Seriously. Your point is a damn good one.
Just my opinion... I don't worry about it. Compost can be about
as simple, or as complicated, as your approach to it. And I like
My only issue is whether the stuff has any nasty chemicals on it.
For example, a paper towel with certain cleaners on it, will go
in the regular rubbish instead.
But, generally, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, pulled
weeds (with clumps of soil), and some paper... I just dump it all
in. Without attempting any mathematical equations.
I use two commercially-sold plastic bins (240 litres each), to
alternate filling and aging. I add a bit of water and urine
(yes, urine) to the full one. Plus some extra water to the
bucket in my kitchen for scraps (dumped in every couple of days.)
I don't even put much effort into turning the contents of either
But, it works out OK for me. In this particular location, the
only thing I might change, is buying some worms. Because my soil
is clay-ish and compacted, and has a low natural population of
Get Credit Where Credit Is Due
If you run out of composting material or need a specific type of
growing medium, try a John Innes mix. You can experiment to see which
one suits the plants the best. . Each of these recipes make about one
cubic yard of potting compost.
John Innes Base Fertilizer.
2 parts by weight hoof and horn.
2 parts by weight superphosphate of lime
1 part by weight sulphate of potash.
John Innes Potting Compost No 1
7 parts by bulk sterilised loam.
3 parts by bulk granulated peat.
2 parts by bulk coarse sand. To which is added:
5lbs of John Innes base Fertiliser.
1lb of ground limestone or chalk per cubic yard.
John Innes Potting Compost No 2
7 parts by bulk sterilised loam.
3 parts by bulk granulated peat.
2 parts by bulk coarse sand.
To which is added.
10lb John Innes Base Fertiliser.
2lb ground limestone or chalk per cubic yard.
John Innes Potting Compost No 3
The same as No 2 but add
15lb of Base fertiliser and
3lb of chalk per cubic yard.
John Innes Seed Compost.
2 parts by bulk sterilised loam.
1 part by bulk granulated peat.
1part by bulk coarse sand.
To which is added:
2lb of superphosphate of lime.
1lb ground limestone or chalk per cubic yard.
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