Do I Need a Recipe?

Do I Need a Recipe?

Microorganisms and other soil fauna work most efficiently when the ratio of carbon-rich to nitrogen-rich materials in your compost pile is approximately 25:1. In practical terms, if you want to have an active compost pile, you should include lots of high-carbon “brown” materials (such as straw, wood chips, or dry leaves) and a lesser amount of high-nitrogen “green” materials (such as grass clippings, freshly pulled weeds, or kitchen scraps).

If you have an excess of carbon-rich materials and not enough nitrogen-rich materials, your pile may take years to decompose (there is not enough protein for those microbes!). If your pile has too much nitrogen and not enough carbon, your pile will also decompose very slowly (not enough for the microbes to eat!), and it will probably be soggy and smelly along the way.

But don’t worry about determining the exact carbon content of a material or achieving a precise 25:1 ratio. Composting doesn’t need to be a competitive, goal-oriented task. All organic matter breaks down eventually, no matter what you do. If you simply use about 3 times as much “brown” materials as “green” materials, you’ll be off to a great start. Take a look at the sample recipes and check the chart of common compost materials. With experience, you’ll get a sense for what works best.

Sample Compost Recipes

  • 1 part fresh grass clippings
  • 1 part dry leaves
  • 1 part good garden soil

Spread the ingredients in 3-inch-deep layers to a height of 3 to 4 feet.

  • 2 parts fresh grass clippings
  • 2 parts straw or spoiled hay
  • 1 part good garden soil

Spread the ingredients in 4-inch layers, sprinkling about 1 inch of garden soil and adding water to the layers.

  • 2 parts dry leaves
  • 1 part fresh grass clippings
  • 1 part food scraps

Spread ingredients in 4-inch layers, adding water if needed.

Condiments to Spice up Your Pile

The following materials can be sprinkled onto your compost pile as you build each layer. They will add important nutrients and will help speed up the composting process:

  • garden soil or finished compost (high in microorganisms), 1/2 shovelful on each layer bone meal, blood meal, or alfalfa meal (high in nitrogen), 1/2 shovelful on each layer
  • fish waste or manure (high in nitrogen), a shovelful on each layer
  • woodstove or fireplace ashes (high in potash and carbon), a shovelful on each layer
  • crushed rock dust (rich in minerals/feeds microbes), a shovelful on each layer
  • commercial compost starter