Newbie Q ~ What can I compost?

K.Day(5)November 5, 2013

Hi There,

This will be my first go of composting and I have oodles of questions but my biggest Q is what can I compost? Any thoughts or guidance from y'all would be very much appreciated.

Here is a bit about my set up.
-I'm in Chicagoland so think cold winters and hot summers.
-My piles will be in full sun
-My "baskets" are about 4' in diameter and 3' tall
-I have about 10 baskets made up so far. I plan to start by filling 5. In about a month or so I'll transfer the contents of one basket into an empty basket. That's how I'll turn it.
-I'm starting with mulched leaves and grass and some coffee grounds from the local coffee place.
-I'm thinking about lining the baskets with black landscape fabric. My thought is that the black material will absorb the sun and heat things up a bit more while still allowing it to breathe. Thoughts? Is this a waste of time or does it have some value?

Now, can I compost the following stuff?

*Herbs - I have a LOT of mint, mustard seed, chives, etc. I've read NOT to compost herbs because they are so proliferate.

*Wild Grape Vine - Can this be composted or will I just be setting it up to reproduce?

*Mulch - I have a free endless supply of mulch readily available. Should I add mulch to the piles? How would or wouldn't that be helpful?

*Peppers, Tomatoes, other stuff from the garden - Will this stuff decompose or will it seed and sprout new plants?

Weeds/Nightshade/MorningGlory - Again, will this stuff decompose or am I just giving it a breading ground?

Pine Needles - ?

Any guidance and help is super gratefully appreciated :) Thanks!!!!

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toxcrusadr

-I'm thinking about lining the baskets with black landscape fabric. My thought is that the black material will absorb the sun and heat things up a bit more while still allowing it to breathe. Thoughts? Is this a waste of time or does it have some value?

> It may help a little, but the effect will be small compared to achieving the most balanced green/brown mix, keeping moisture right and turning. You could try it on a couple of bins with a couple control bins with the same contents and see for yourself.

*Herbs - I have a LOT of mint, mustard seed, chives, etc. I've read NOT to compost herbs because they are so proliferate.

Anything with seeds on the plant when you put it in, may sprout later. Mint spreads through roots, and root fragments may survive. You can lay them out in the sun till they're dead, or hot compost them.

*Wild Grape Vine - Can this be composted or will I just be setting it up to reproduce?

I haven't tried this, but I don't think grape vine will root that easily.

*Mulch - I have a free endless supply of mulch readily available. Should I add mulch to the piles? How would or wouldn't that be helpful?

What kind of mulch? Shredded limbs? You can use it, and if it has a lot of green twiggy ends (ramial wood) it has more N. Woody shreds are low in N and will take some time to decompose, but if you have no other browns, they will work.

*Peppers, Tomatoes, other stuff from the garden - Will this stuff decompose or will it seed and sprout new plants?

Pepper seeds, in this part of the country, do not survive winter. Tomatoes will. They will survive the human intestinal tract AND the sewage plant and sprout out of places where sludge or sludge compost is used. They are easy to pull up though. However, I don't compost my tomato plants to avoid spreading blight. I let the city compost pile have them.

Weeds/Nightshade/MorningGlory - Again, will this stuff decompose or am I just giving it a breading ground?

Again, avoid seeds, and with root spreaders like Bermuda grass, avoid them or make sure they are good and dead.

Pine Needles - ?

Slow to decompose due to the waxy outer skin, but compostable.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 5:56PM
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priswell(9 CA)

Pine needles take about 3 years to compost. They just keep getting thinner, thinner, and smaller, until they're about the size of a grain of rice, at which point, you can consider them composted. From there, they will fall apart with digging and shovelling.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 7:42PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Pine needle are, I think, dead cells. PN are one of the best soil amenders that provide aeration. Also, one of the best mulces around, for just about any purpose, matoes, pepps, ..flowers, shrubs trees. I Atlanta Ga, probably 90% of landscaping mulch consist of pine straw. They refresh it once or twice a year. It breaks down in heat and under sun much faster.
I cannot find them around here at PNW.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 9:11PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Pine needles have a coating on them that inhibit the digestion process, but they can be composted and I have composted the needles from many evergreens (pine, yew, junipers, spruce, etc.) with no real problems, I have also used them as mulch.
"Weeds", plants you do not want growing where you do not want them growing can be composted. Many plants, not just "weeds", root from stem cuttings, grapes are propagated this way as are a tomatoes, peppers, roses, and many, many others. Bury these plants deep in the compost pile, preferably in a hot compost pile.
Mulch is a material that is placed on the soil to aid in suppressing unwanted plant growth, aid in maintaining soil moisture levels, aid in soil temperature control, and add organic matter to soil. Material not spread on the soil is not mulch but vegetative waste that can be composted.
Sunlight is not a significant factor in the heat of a compost pile. Bacterial activity is what generates that heat and to get the bacteria working to generate that heat there needs to be an adequate food supply (this is where the Carbon to Nitrogen, C:N, ratio comes in) and enough but not too much moisture.
If the volume of your compost piles is adequate and there is not too much moisture in the mix your compost piles will get worked on all winter, even in the Chicago area since I have had mine working all winter up here.
Perhaps this link to a very good composting tutorial will be of some help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting Tutorial

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 6:54AM
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K.Day(5)

toxcrusadr - Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I hadn't realized the difference between seeds and roots. This will help a lot!

Thanks for the info on pine needles priswell & seysonn. It sounds like they can be added with good results. I just won't expect them to break down very quickly, which is o.k. I'm glad to know they won't "hurt" anything either. I was worried they might have an adverse effect on plants.

kimmsr, thank for the info and the link. I've been reading the link pages all morning. Great info, thanks!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 6:42AM
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