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Simple Compost Ingredients: A List of Do’s and Don’ts

Adding homemade compost to your vegetable garden is an important, cost-effective way to add organic matter to your soil.  Compost improves soil structure, aids the soil in retaining moisture, improves drainage, adds beneficial microorganisms, as well as, macro and micronutrients, and can reduce the need to add fertilizer. In short, composting helps create healthy soil, and therefore, a more productive garden.

Regardless of the many kinds of composting methods you can use, it is important to know which ingredients you should and should not add to the pile. Adding the right kinds of ingredients creates healthy compost, while adding the wrong kinds of ingredients can ruin the compost and possibly your garden.  But it does not have to be complicated.  Here is a list of simple ingredients you can safely add to the compost bin, followed by a list of ingredients you do not want to add.

Compost, Okra In My Garden

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Do Compost These Ingredients:

  • Kitchen scraps from fruit and vegetable produce (see exceptions below)
  • Crushed eggshells 
  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters made from natural, non-synthetic fibers
  • Tea grounds
  • Tea bags made from natural, non-synthetic fiber (remove any staples)
  • Dryer lint from natural, non-synthetic fabrics
  • Dryer sheets made from natural fibers – non-organic ones are coated in chemicals 
  • Uncoated cardboard, cut or shredded into small pieces, preferably with little to no print/ink
  • Carboard inserts from toilet paper, paper towels, giftwrap, and ribbon spools
  • Cardboard egg cartons
  • Newspapers
compost ingredients
Compost, nitrogen and carbon, Okra In My Garden
  • Plain paper (non-glossy)
  • Brown or white paper bags (non-glossy)
  • String, twine, thread, etc. from natural fibers
  • Wine corks made from natural cork
  • Wooden toothpicks, preferably not dyed
  • Burnt wooden or paper matches
  • Flowers or floral bouquets after you have enjoyed them
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Pine needles – their acidity will neutralize as they decompose; limit use to no more than ten percent of the total volume of the pile
  • Twigs
  • Grass clippings from chemical-free lawns
  • Woodchips (see exception below)
Chicken manure makes a great addition to the compost pile
  • Wood ash from untreated wood, preferably in large compost piles only – its alkalinity can slow down the process and may release ammonia
  • Sawdust from untreated wood
  • Hair
  • Fur, feathers, and nail clippings
  • Manure from cows, horses, pigs, chickens, sheep, and rabbits – caution, some animal manure may have persistent herbicide carryover
  • Cotton balls and cotton padding, unused
  • Water from an aquarium

It helps to breakdown paper, cardboard, and even leaves (using a lawnmower or weed eater), into smaller pieces before adding them to the pile.  This will greatly accelerate the composting process.

compost bin
Composting bin

Don’t Compost These Ingredients:

  • Weeds that have gone to seed

  • Cooking oils, butter, or anything greasy

  • Cardboard with wax or other type coating (i.e., milk cartons, juice cartons, etc.)

  • Dairy products – can become rancid, attract animals

  • Citrus peels – their acidity can harm beneficial organisms (small amounts on occasion are permissible unless you are vermicomposting)

  • Onions and garlic – or if you must, use in moderation as they can kill beneficial organisms

  • Meat and seafood – can become rancid, attracts animals.

  • Bones – take too long to break down, may attract animals.

  • Coal ash – contains chemicals


  • Manure from humans and pets (cats, dogs, etc.) – can contains pathogens and parasites.

  • Eggs yolks and whites – can become rancid, attract animals

  • Bread, cooked or uncooked rice and pasta – can breed bacteria, attract animals

  • Tree branches – take too long to decompose, are best used in hügelkultur beds or turned into woodchips.

  • Glossy paper – magazines, advertisement inserts, etc.
  • Black walnut tree nuts, leaves, twigs, woodchips, and bark – every part of the tree contains a chemical called juglone that is toxic to some vegetable plants, including nightshades like peppers, tomatoes and potatoes. Hot composting will eventually breakdown juglone, but it will take a minimum of six months. 

Making your own compost can be a very rewarding experience because it takes organic waste and turns it into a beneficial garden soil amendment.  You can learn more about composting in these articles.

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