Can't compost that

Grak(7A)November 12, 2012

Alright guys I am new as a member but browse the site daily. Here's the deal; I am not "new" to composting but there are certain things that "shouldn't" be composted. I don't know what they are. Now I am a gardener, I own a small landscaping company and I don't believe in the idea of "organic" gardening. Now I believe chemicals are good for you, I believe they keep you acclimated to the environment you live in. I eat hot dogs, I chew my nails after working on small equipment and I don't wash my hands unless they really need it. I believe in a strong immunity and having resistance to things you're going to breathe and eat:) that said, I don't plan to compost varnish.

I do wonder though will my compost break down dryer sheets? I know it does fine with Denium, and its worked wonders on a heavy cotton blanket that my 85lb moth, I mean dog, chewed holes throughout. I am not afraid of the possible remaining chemicals in the dryersheets(I try to line dry anyway) but might it hurt my plants? Also, tomatoes are in the nightshade family. Do they leave poisons behind after being composted?

I am really looking for some help finding truely bad things to compost. I swear if one more person tells me 1) Don't compost fish, it takes too long and will attract vermin, 2) Moldy bread is bad for compost, 3) Only use soy based ink newspaper, 4) Use a plastic bin, after telling me not to use non-soy paper, I will blow a gasket and lose all faith in humanity.

Some plants/stuffs really are not good for your garden, Walnuts I hear have an oil that is toxic to some plants...? What are they, prefer from experience, and what happened when you used those?

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feijoas(New Zealand)

Whoah Nelly!
I'll stay miles away from nearly all your post's content, and keep it to a statement of the rather limited list of stuff I won't put in the compost.
btw, This list assumes that DDT, Clopyralid et al aren't ideal compost additions...
I actively avoid:
running grasses
human, dog and cat faeces
treated timber
That's about it. I'd avoid walnut leaves if there was any around to avoid, but I merrily add all sorts of things 'they' frown apon.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:54AM
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Personally, I prefer my compost on a kaiser roll with just a bit of mustard.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 5:59AM
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Most all of the dryer sheets I have seen are made of synthetic fabric so they will not be digested by the bacteria at work in your compost pile.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 6:21AM
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kimpa(z6b PA)

I have heard that all newspaper inks used in the US are soy and that the glossy on ads is clay. Most worm people suggest using only black and white paper for bins just to be safe.

Tomato plants can be composted with no worry about toxins-some say that you may spread diseases this way if not fully composted.

As far as I remember,most of the juglone comes from the roots of black walnut so fully composted leaves should be ok. I grow lots of things under my black walnut tree...

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 6:57AM
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My husband added a dryer sheet to our compost bin out of curiosity. After 6 months it was mostly intact. Very little had degraded. I have read that latex is compostable.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 8:32AM
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I read this and I ask myself, is this for real?


    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 9:55AM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

kimpa, I believe that black walnut husks are high in juglone, so I would avoid those.

There is some juglone in the foliage, but I don't believe that it is as concentrated. Probably not to worry in a "long term" type pile.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 10:03AM
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Thanks guys! I was pretty upset at the number of things people "shouldn't" compost last night. I like facts not fairytales. Great to know about the dryer sheet. Ours are not labeled as "organic" or synthetic fibers. I will start collecting some walnut bits from now on:) I understand the "danger" in cat and human poo. I use the dog duty for a cold pile in the draw behind us though. I assume the ivy and running grasses is a spreading issue? I really do appreciate the list, I hate that funktual information is king on google instead of factual.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:13PM
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"Thanks guys! I was pretty upset at the number of things people "shouldn't" compost last night. I like facts not fairytales. "

Of course you can compost meat, ect... To say you cant would defy science. Why would you want to? It takes forever and there is no special nutrition your pile will gain. I grow with synthetic fertilizer and mulch with compost to keep a good soil.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:19PM
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If you have a long term compost pile, like I do that sits for years, not days, any poop will not harm it.

I have peed on it but I think the neighbors might get upset if they see me squatting on top of it.

I have added cat-litter but only the non-scented stuff without the wonder chemical crap that so many now have added.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 1:40PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

Hey, TheMasterGardener1, there is a reason to compost meat.

Went to a composting seminar at a university here and one of the more interesting components was the composting of large animals. Gets rid of 'em on site and avoids the nasty trip to the rendering plant, incineration or on site burial.

The method described was to create an 18" deep pile of wood chips, move the animal to the pile and cover it with 18" more of wood chips. They claimed that with normal rainfall to keep the moisture up, in 6 months only pieces of the largest bones would remain.

Guess the chips provide the carbon and the animal provides the nitrogen.


    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 2:42PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

I suggest Grak should study "bioremediation".

[Composting people have lists of things that should not be composted because lists should have do's and don'ts.]

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 3:44PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

So you're not worried about your own health in regard to chemicals, but you want to make sure your plants are OK? That's interesting, man. I'm not making the leap with you, that I think you're making, that chemicals some people fear are harmful to humans are not harmful to plants. I just want to get this straight, nobody wants to force their idea of "healthy" on you, but don't want to provide info you weren't looking for.

But I think the short answer of what you're looking for is that if it's not 100% organic matter, it won't degrade. Of course moldy bread, fruit-fly laden jack-o-lanterns, and that green puff in the frige that used to be lettuce are fine to compost. They've already started. Compost is just stuff that rots that has been assembled together. If you lay a banana peel on the ground and put a twig on top of it, you have started a compost pile. The fabric items you mentioned were organic. Silk would also compost.

Hope that helps in the area you were confused about. The individual rules people make up for composting are not usually in regard to fear, but first in regard to whether or not the items are organic, and second in regard to their individual situation, environment, beliefs, and even stuff like allergies and pets. As a composter, each person gets to decide what is "good" and what is "bad." The confusion you've experienced seems to be in the perception of the advice as being given in regard to "won't compost" vs. "don't want it in my compost." One example I've used before that people really seem to relate to - the cardboard box. If you don't take the tape off first, it will still be there later, it doesn't decompose because it is made of non-organic material. There's a huge difference in the context of the word organic regarding composting, glad you've realized this, and hope you are more able to interpret what people are saying and why they are saying it.

Some substances seem best not put in compost to me, like grease and salt. Sometimes a really short family member will open a bag of salty, crunchy snacks and not bring it to my attention when finished, and do a poor job of closing the bag. So then there are stale snacks that nobody wants to eat but I don't put something like that in the compost because of the salt. Our dog would eat whatever was covered with grease, so we just put it on his food. Critter issues are variable, so it's hard to advise about those, and many people's individual rules are in regard to a critter issue.

One would likely avoid putting urishiol (poison ivy, oak, sumac) in compost for fear of exposing themselves to any oil that may not have decomposed upon contact. But this, and other things mentioned, were for the comfort of the composter, not fear of contaminating the compost with something harmful to plants. If you dig something up and don't want it staying alive in a compost pile, just make sure it's dead first, either by baking openly or in a can, or...

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 4:46PM
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I do compost meat to some extent as well(especially slimy hotdogs:) ). I am not concerned with pests, I have 4 cats and two obnoxious dogs.
Albert I guess I missed the point of your post? I understand to a reasonable extent what bioremediation is... I don't take hints well at all. Don't be afraid to be blunt:)

I don't use cat litter because of the pathogen risk with my kids(wife's choice). I do however dump the litter in the empty lot with my pile-o-logs that is of little use to me. People poo is a no no, I am a people poopaphobic. In that I understand that some people don't see fit to compost certain things. My issue was trying to find a list of truely harmful things to not put in your compost. Mercury isn't high on my list, nor is arsenic, but somethings, like my pile-o-fish after a long week of fishing are going to be high in toxins.

On the other hand both my boys and I urinate only in empty 1 gallon ice cream buckets and use them for nitrogen in our ever carbon rich piles. I hate that we don't have a recycling toilet, and we use rain barrels as much as possible to keep from using city garbage, I mean water. With my hobbies and lifestyle I am not going to avoid chemicals. I live in the city, lover tinkering with cars and small engines and I smoke. I also have a happy and healthy life in my opinion. My plants on the other hand are short lived. They deserve better:) I use miracle grow, but that's about it for synthetic fert. I use boiling water left over from cooking to kill weeds I can't pull. I don't gather clippings from my customers for my personal compost, mostly because they take poor care of their lawns to begin with and there is no sense in giving my microbes and mushrooms cruddy food:) I have only been at my new home for a year and am just getting my composting going. I have never expected anyone to see eye to eye with me. Honestly its probably a better world that way. I just don't want to poison my plants.

Here's another funky one. I know bloodmeal is good for the compost, I am not the most dexterititous person and bleed myself on a fairly regular basis. I use the compost for tissues and paper towels. Safe to compost bloody cloth? My mind tells me why not, society on the other hand would probably say otherwise...

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 6:31PM
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I don't get it. I find that varnish really boosts my immune system. I take it with my chemicals first thing every morning.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 8:58PM
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I appreciate purpleinopp's answer because it added the "why". I was so confused about composting for my first year or two because I'd see all these lists of do's and don't's but so few that actually said why.

When you see enough "why's" it gives you some rules of thumb and the ability to figure out what you want to do and what risks you're willing to take. I for example, am ok putting a few twigs into a pile because I'm ok with the risk that some won't be completely broken down in a couple months. Someone who builds their pile to be planting pot ready at 2 months might not find that acceptable.

Another benefit of explaining the why is that it exposes our individual assumptions and biases, which helps others decide if they agree. :)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 8:59PM
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"I use miracle grow, but that's about it for synthetic fert."

Thats my number one fertilizer.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 9:35PM
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I am stopping using Miracle Grow but use other brands that are of similar type.
Mom swore by Shultz's for her roses.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 10:46PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

Thanks, greenbeans. I've learned from reading people's comments over the years that, beyond determining that something is organic, that it will indeed decompose, one's level of squeamishness is usually the primary gauge each person uses to decide what to compost, followed closely by their expectation of how long compost should take. A completely subjective subject of which this thread is a great example.

Grak, as long as you don't fear your pets tearing up your compost pile to get those slimy hot dogs or bloody paper towels, they will compost just fine. If I'm going to add something to compost I think may "bother" my neighbors, I just put it under other stuff. I think it's great you're teaching your sons about decomposition and natural resources!

"I don't gather clippings from my customers for my personal compost, mostly because they take poor care of their lawns to begin with and there is no sense in giving my microbes and mushrooms cruddy food"

Unless there are chemicals (like weed'n'feed) or seeds in the clippings, they are fine to compost. Most materials put in compost don't provide complete nutrition for every kind of critter involved in the decomposition process, but it's all worthy of being added. All weeds I pull get composted, and I often bring home buckets of pulled weeds from my Mom's house to compost. Something will decompose it into whatever basic elements it has to offer. If it's green, it has some nitrogen.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 9:26AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

Grak, this thread is quite confusing for me as things seems to be reversed: yes to drywall but no to clippings?
I'd be pretty comfortable using clipping from an ugly lawn: 'poor care' for me is lawns that look eerily perfect because of synthetics.
IME, meat composts extremely fast. I've buried the remains of processing about 20 chicken in a pile, turned it in a couple of weeks and couldn't find the evidence.
But I don't have critters...

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 3:21PM
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Yeah, people are funny. I met a dude once who insisted that you should not consume citrus and milk in the same meal because the acid in the citrus would 'curdle' the milk in your stomach and it wouldn't digest. I tried to explain (being a chemistry grad student at the time) that stomach acid was about 1000 times more concentrated than the acid in citrus juice, so milk curdles instantly in your stomach anyway, and citrus would have virtually no effect. He was having none of it so I let it go.

"Why" is important, for those who have ears to hear. :-]

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 3:22PM
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Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL

"I'd be pretty comfortable using clipping from an ugly lawn: 'poor care' for me is lawns that look eerily perfect because of synthetics. " Well said.

Assuming the stance that the lawn is ugly because there is something besides grass growing in the mowed parts, and/or that what is growing in the mowed parts is sparse. The former says to me "no weed'n'feed was put here." Grak, in case you're missing the connection, a weed'n'feed product is lethal to many garden plants. The latter (sparseness) just says that it's too dry, shady, lacking organic matter in the soil, not at all a reflection on the quality of grass to be clipped. Grass is grass. Green bits of weeds are green bits of weeds.

If seeds are your concern, that's a good one to have. Nothing will grow a new lawn in your flower bed better than compost full of grass seeds.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 3:56PM
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Drywall is mined from the earth.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 7:50PM
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Weed'n'feed would probably be a concern. I am pretty sure drywall, which I hadn't thought of..., would have more nutrients then most of the lawns I take care of. Epsoms salt once mid summer is the only "chemical" I use on mine. Lots of tender care though. I couldn't be less afraid of weed seeds. I quite enjoy digging them and watching the grass fill in the newly exposed "soil". I wasn't being sarcastic about the hotdogs. My dogs can't reach my compost, aside from leaf piles its all out of their range. The WHY point is a very good point. I actually struggle with weather or not to compost my leaves. It's a really cool idea that carbon had no enemies until the Dinosaurs came around. Crabon eating fungi that is. But I genuinely feel bad about increasing the carbon output. I know the leaves will decompose on their own but its a darn lot slower. I know it sounds silly, and that's a big reason I don't allow it to bother me. Also a lot less carbon output from composting my leaves then buying mulch that got shipped in from who knows where:)

Sorry I got us so off topic though. From what I've gathered one should avoid composting;
Treated timber-high arsenic, cadmium, copper, all are fungicides/anti-microbials
Most dryer sheets-usually synthetic
Long life herbicides-kills what ever you plant in it
Anti-bacterial/microbial soap-kills the composting critters

And avoid large quantities of;
Juglone-natural herbicide

I know the list of "I won't compost that" can be endless. But now we have a solid list of things that really bring no good to a compost pile:) Thanks again guys, you rock!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 9:31PM
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