“Talking Trash” or “Compost Happens”

Notes below are from last night’s composting class.  Held here in the shop, it was a free class that included info on a wide variety of composting methods.  Also, you can find composting info on the U of I Extension website.

Our most sincere thanks to Jackie Paine, Master Gardener and Executive Director of Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory for giving us her time and talent.

The compost you make is better than what you buy–you know what’s in it and you’re cutting down what you’re sending to landfills.  Instead of fertilizing in spring, use compost instead.  18% of what we throw away is food waste, so compost is a great way to reduce what we send to landfills.

Composting Methods:

  • Very basic leaf composting–punch holes in black plastic bag, put leaves in, pack them down, pour 1-2 gal water in and allow to decompose.
  • Garbage can method: put compost in can, drill holes, bungee the top, and roll around.
  • Could use just a plain pile, but it’s difficult in such dense urban/suburban area.  Mini-scale version: dig a hole, bury food scraps.
  • Cold method of composting is traditional to our urban/suburban area because our piles don’t grow very large.  This method takes about 4-6 months.  Compost ready as early as end of May at bottom of pile.
  • Black plastic mat w/ holes in it.  Put 4 pieces of rebar into ground, put cardboard and screen down, wrap mat around it.
  • Wooden 3-bin composting system.  Each is 3×3, separated by walls.  Screen on top.  1 is ready to use. Next is composting. Last is pile you’re adding to.

Keeping Your Compost Moist:

  • Consider using gray water to “water” your compost: water used from heating up shower, boiling vegetables, etc.
  • Fruits and veggies have high moisture content, so take that into consideration when watering compost.
  • Winter breaks down tissue of matter, so remember to start watering when compost thaws.


  • For fall fertilizing, you can dig compost in, but since that’s hard work, it’s okay to leave compost as topsoil because that will still fertilize in the fall.
  • Compost smells when you don’t give it enough air.
  • You can sift compost if you want small, uniform mix.
  • The more sunlight your compost gets, the better b/c you get heat, which causes decomposition.  But its ok if you have shade; the process just takes longer. 
  • Compost material that is 6 in. or less pieces are better–including plant matter.  Larges pieces will eventually break down, but might take a little longer. 
  • Soil has microbes and bacteria you need for composting, so be sure some is in there too.

DO Compost These Materials Outdoors:

  • 50/50 Magic rule: 50% brown, 50% green matter. Green is rich in nitrogen, brown is rich in carbon.
    • You can run kitchen waste through food processor, but not necessary
    • Can also use twigs, other coarse brown matter as mulch
    • Make brown matter by letting green matter dry out
    • Bury food in brown pile to keep insects away. 
    • Eggshells
    • Tea bags (remove tag)
    • Fruit and vegetables
    • Coffee grounds (You can get coffee grounds for free if you don’t drink coffee at home/work from coffee shops.)
    • Coffee filters
    • Brown paper
    • Cardboard boxes without printing
    • Black & white newsprint (okay because it has soy ink)
    • Straw
    • Untreated wood chips
    • Dryer lint
    • Small quantites of bread, cooked cereal, cooked veggies okay—just fold them into your pile.
    • Soil, potting mix
    • Deadheaded flowers and house plants
    • Grass clippings ok if not treated with non-eco friendly fertilizer/weed killer.
    • Wood ash (but not treated charcoal.

DON’T Compost These Materials Outdoors:

  • No diseased leaves—compost won’t get hot enough to kill disease.
  • No bones, meat, dairy, grease because they could attract vermin. 
  • No glossy paper, stationary, junk mail, etc.

Worm Composting:

  • Use red wigglers, not earthworms for worm composting.  Earthworms are burrowing, which is how they survive winters.  They burrow below frost line.  Worm bins not deep enough for earthworms.

  • Simple worm composting: drill holes into top of Rubbermaid.  Better to have two small bins instead of one big one, so that you can sort materials more easily and b/c worms don’t burrow. Shred newspaper, wet it down so that it’s damp.  Add about two inches of newspaper.  Not too wet, just damp.
    • Check out the Worm Factory on our website!
    • Put in worms, banana peels, eggshells, tea bags w/o tag, fruit and veggie pulp.  No citrus rind b/c worms don’t have teeth.  Oatmeal is a good way to feed worms if you’re going on vacation.  Worms’ skin has to stay moist, so be sure they don’t dry out too much.  Add handful of worms.
    • Add more newsprint when bin starts to look wet and clumpy.  Keep stored in dark place.  Worms don’t eat pits/seeds but that’s ok b/c those will compost on their own anyway.  No meat or dairy.  If you do get a smell, it’s because your bin is too wet.  No office paper.  Just fruit and vegetables.  No yard waste.  Worms have no teeth, so keep it soft.
    • Harvest compost by putting fresh food on one side of bin, don’t feed the other side, and they’ll migrate to the fresh stuff.  Or if you’re using Worm Factory, they will migrate up to the fresh food.

      So, how are you composting at home?  What are your tips and tricks?  Share your thoughts!

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