Grass clipping only compost

mzmalikApril 25, 2014

Just a few questions:
Is it possible to start a compost pile with grass clippings only? I am aware that a compost pile should have leaves and soil as well for the proper Carbon to Nitrogen ration, but there aren't many leaves in our backyard, especially during spring and summer. So please let me know if it is possible to compost grass clippings only.

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yes it possible but I think you get a better product if you add carbon material. If you don't have leaves you can use shredded paper or sawdust.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 6:04PM
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You have to be VERY careful with the moisture balance, because they mat down, go anaerobic and stink and get slimy.

Adding wood chips or other coarse fibrous material in layers between layers of clippings helps aeration. Mixing them with the clippings also works.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 7:07PM
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Well, if you have so much grass that it can be your main ingredient, then I suggest the following.

After cutting, gather up the grass, and let some grass dry. Then, with new grass that you keep cutting, there is your green. Have some browns and greens that way, with just your grass.

Now, in reality, you don't need to do it to that extent.

You generate greens when you cook. Veggie and fruit parts that you trim off and don't eat -- all are greens. So are yard or garden trimmings (separate from the grass), including weeds that did not have seeds yet.

Paper towels, frozen food cartons, newspaper, junk mail -- all are browns. So are lint from your dryer, cereal boxes, and other box cartons.

So now you have plenty more than you thought, and you can use the grass as brown or green, depending on what you need.

I think coffee grounds are also green but some website I just looked at said they are browns. Either way, you can use that, too, in your compost pile, if you have some.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:20PM
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I'm new to composting, so I really don't know what I'm talking about. BUT I do have an experimental grass cuttings pile, so I'll share.

Our current rental property has a huge hole in the ground that was once a pond. I have some plants around it and that helps disguise it, but the landlords didn't want to spend money on dirt and neither did we.

So all of our grass clippings go in the pond. After a couple of mows I realized things were a bit clumpy and wet, so we started mixing in all the little branches we pick up in the yard before mowing. That seemed to aerate the pile a bit. Yes, everything in the pile is brown but over time it has started to actually break down (and the pond is mostly filled). I don't stir it up or anything, but when I transplant something I'll throw the misplaced dirt in as well (we're talking small amounts, maybe a handful at a time).

What surprises me the most is that no grass/weeds are growing up from it. We have a weedy/seedy lawn and yet nothing survives the pile.

Not sure if this helps or not :)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:35PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

You've gotta have those browns in order to "compost", BUT you can use your grass clippings as mulch on your vege beds!
If you sprinkle them a couple of inches thick on your vege beds, you can prevent weeds and warm the bed a bit! I wouldn't do more than 3" or so, and be sure they are pulled away from the stems of plants! I did this a couple of year ago and had a GREAT garden!
I don't know if it was "because" of this method, or it just happened to be a great year! Nancy

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:35PM
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Thank you so much for all your detailed replies.
How should I go about with adding paper and cereal boxes as browns? How small should they be shredded to compost nicely? Approximate size.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 9:39PM
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The ideal Carbon to Nitrogen ratio for a compost pile is about 30:1. 30 parts of a high Carbon material to 1 part of a high Nitrogen material. Grass clippings, depending on age, have a C:N ratio of between 12 and 25 to 1, so some high Carbon material is really needed to compost them.
If no high Carbon material is readily available why not mulch mow those clippings right back where they came from?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 7:21AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

And FWIW, mzmalik, you do not need to add soil to a compost heap as you mentioned in your first post. The cardboard, etc can just be torn up a bit and mixed in. No mandatory size.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 4:53PM
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I agree with drying some of them so that the pile won't be as slimy. Do you have a paper shredder or access to an office's paper shreds? That could be a brown, dry addition to the pile.

If I put cereal boxes in the compost, I usually rip them into pieces about the size of a closed fist.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 5:30PM
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I used to fill cereal boxes & paper flour sacks with kitchen waste & throw them into the heap whole. No ripping.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 6:47AM
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I think it will depend on size of compost pile that could handle bigger pieces in the time that you want (otherwise, leave it in as-is for those piles that go for 1-2 years like some have). For mine, I will go about 1"x1" or 2"x2" on paper towels. For other paper material including thin cardboard boxes, such as cereal boxes, I shred them with a cross-cut shredder.

For that, I use a shredder, and for paper towels, I may do it while watching TV or videos online.

This post was edited by gardenper on Mon, Apr 28, 14 at 11:35

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 12:01PM
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I believe your answers are in what Lazygardens,Ladybrowncoat and mommandme2 said. Grass clipings are close to balanced C to N but as Lazyg said,they mat horriably so airation is what you need. That can be accomplished by turning often or adding branches and sticks and/or doing as mommandme2 did,throw the smaller boxes in whole then turn less often. The branches and boxes will not rot as soon as the grass but that's ok. Anything that isn't broke down go's into the next pile. You are likly useing a catcher on the mower so you can shred paper and cardboard by running over it with the mower. Now that all that has been said,at least some of the clippings should be left on the lawn. You need a mulching mower with a SHARP BLADE to grind clippings fine enough to leave in place.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2014 at 4:47AM
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I have read this article and I still have a question. I have done a very similar thing for my compost pile. I have two bins 3'x3'x3' comprised of 2x4 and vinyl lattice, each they are about half full at this point. They started off nearly full and have broke down. I used 80% grass clippings that had dried out and mulch and the old bedding from a chicken coop. I have been adding all the left over vegetables, fruit, egg shells, and coffee from our home as it comes along. I dig around in the pile with a compost fork about once a week. I have read about how the temperature you want it to remain at is somewhere between 140 F and 160 F. My question is when I was flipping it I noticed that the compost is cool to the touch it is not hot. This troubles me and I also noticed it dries out real quick and have to keep adding water to it. Any suggestions. FYI I live in the Heart of Florida.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2014 at 5:26PM
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The link below is a very good tutorial on composting written by people at the University of Florida, which may be of some help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 5:56AM
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@GSRedneck: brief answer is two/three parts:
i) No compost pile will stay 'hot' continuously. At some point things cool down. Lots of sources to read about this.
ii) Compost piles where you're adding from time to time, especially one type of material like kitchen scraps, likely won't stay hot for long periods, and may never get 'hot'. That usually requires a fairly big pile that has the right mix and goes through one or several hot periods (due to turning and air and water additions).
iii) You can cold compost - it will eventually break down. It won't 'kill' bad bacteria and weed seeds as well, and it will be slower. That doesn't mean that compost is bad or dangerous necessarily (there may not be that many bad bacteria in compost made mostly of plants, i.e. little or no meat or faeces or dairy, etc). Opinions differ in this but _my_ take on it is that it's more about helping the 'good' bacteria dominate, which mostly means plenty of air, rather than worrying.

You might see if you can encourage compost worms to populate your pile. You may need to cover to keep more light out and keep it more damp. They like compost and will probably show up on their own, you'd just be helping them out.

This probably sounds scary but short form is that hot composting is not the only way. Lots of people never get their compost piles hot. If what you want to do is reduce your kitchen-scrap (plant) garbage, cold is perfectly fine too. The other things you can do like adding browns 'help' optimise, you're just trying to get it to fit your needs.

But do read up in other places.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 10:08AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Even a hot pile needs to cool off eventually and have a curing/finishing period. The best way to get finished compost is to stop adding new material at some point and start a new pile somewhere else.

The pile I just removed my bin from - which is summer and fall yard trimmings and leaves - will be turned once in early spring (Feb-March) and by planting season, it's compost. Now my empty bin will be layered with kitchen scraps and leaves all winter. In spring I can turn that over and by midsummer it's compost.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 1:38PM
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Thank you very much everyone for the feedback. I read the link that kimmsr posted and believe my problem might be wind drying the pile. My wife will not like it but I am going to wrap the sides of the bin with a tarp and see if that helps. I will keep everyone posted. I have posted a picture of my bin. We have had a lot of wind lately and I think that with only lattice around the bin and no shade to put it in (I took the picture at sunset that is why there is shade in that pic) that might be causing some of the issues. Thanks again to everyone for there responses.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 4:25PM
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Wraping with tarp WILL help. In fact, I have read that some insulate with giant buble wrap, which some folks claim to have found at mattress sellers. My compost bins are wraped in tarp, and I put black plastic sheeting on top, and then 12 inches of fiberglass insulation. Since I started doing this my temps are increased and prolonged a lot. Still have tear the heap down and turn it, but keeping moisture and heat in the pile really speeds things up.

Some day I hope to find some of this mythical "giant bubble wrap".

    Bookmark   December 4, 2014 at 9:51PM
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In my 40 plus years of making compost I have not found either the sun or the wind to be significant factors in the process. Except when the ingredients of a compost pile are growing the sun does little either to help or hinder the bacterial activity that converts that material to compost. The wind may dry the outer parts of a compost pile some but will have little affect on the interior where the bacteria are most active.
Wrapping a compost pile with some kind of impervious material may restrict air infiltration that the bacteria need to function.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2014 at 6:10AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

It is probably strongly dependent upon climate. GSRedneck is in Zone 9 which could be an arid place. In places where the humidity can get as low as 5% in the winter and is normally 50% or less during the warm seasons, it's amazing how things can dry out. If GS says frequent watering can barely keep it wet, it is what it is. We're used to humidity in the Midwest.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2014 at 10:52AM
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Here's a follow-up to kimmsr's remarks about 40 years of composting; east of the Mississippi River, the relative humidity never drops below 50% and is usually quite high. kimmsr lives in Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes and I'd guess that average relative humidity is even higher.

Compost wants conditions like a sauna; warm, maybe even hot, and humid. Composting requires bacteria, protozoa, fungi, yeast, micro arthropods, and other tiny creatures that simply die when they dry out. Some might still be active when conditions are not warm, but none will survive dryness.

Posters seeking advice about composting will be well advised to provide their locations or climate if they want better advice. I can offer advice about high-desert conditions, kimmsr can offer advice about more temperate (and easier !) conditions.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2014 at 2:31PM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

One more thing that occurred to me after reading the other thread that's up today about climate and moisture: This pile that's heavy on leaves may have a channeling problem. That's when the water finds preferential pathways through open spaces and runs to the bottom of the pile without really wetting everything. Leaves can get clumpy and have this problem. One thing you can do is spray a fine mist rather than fire-hosing it or dumping buckets. The other is to turn while wetting.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2014 at 11:21AM
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