• Garden Maintenance

50 Things you can compost

  • By Julie Kilpatrick
For those of us who want to do as little work as possible, then composting in a cold system is about as easy as it gets. It's all about knowing the right things to put in.

What is a cold composting system?

A cold composting system is what most of us have. You might have a purpose-made compost bin or a pile at the bottom of the garden but if you have a compost bin that is less than one metre cubed in size, if you add items a little at a time and if you rarely turn your compost, then you have a cold system.

Cold composting systems never reach the high temperatures required to kill off pathogens and weed seeds so there are a number of things you should keep out of your bin. As a general rule, you shouldn't put in diseased plants, cooked food, meat, fish or dairy nor perennial weed roots or weeds with seeds.

plastic compost bin

What's all this about greens and browns

If you're new to composting, you may have been told you need a fifty-fifty mix of greens to browns. (Greens are nitrogen-rich and tend to be wetter, browns are carbon-rich and tend to be drier). This is true but all this talk of greens and browns is complicating the issue. All you really need to know is that you should have a good mix of materials in your compost bin. Put allowable wet and dry household and garden waste into your bin as and when they become available and you'll find you get pretty close to the fifty-fifty ratio without even having to try.

Here's a list of things you can put in your compost bin and for those of you who really need to know, we've colour-coded them according to whether they are predominantly green or brown or even both - green and brown.

1. Grass clippings
Good source of nitrogen, don't use straight after applying lawn treatments.
2. Shredded paper
Good to mix with grass clippings if you can be bothered. If not, just add when available.
3. Vacuum cleaner contents
4. Annual weeds without seeds
5. Pet and human hair
In moderation when cleaning your brushes.
6. Tea bags and tea leaves
7. Vegetable peelings
8. Junk mail
Scrunch it up loosely to trap air.
9. Cooked sweetcorn cobs
Although cooked, these are okay - very slow to rot down.
10. Pond debris
11. Floor sweepings
12. Cereal packets
Leave these whole, there's air inside and compost bins love air!
13. Fruit peelings
14. Wooden barbeque skewers
15. Houseplants with potting compost
16. Egg boxes
Leave these whole, there's air inside.
17. Poisonous plants
Things like potato haulms and rhubarb leaves are fine.
18. Feathers
19. Used kitchen roll
As long as you haven't been using anti-bacterial spray. Compost needs bacteria!
20. Banana peel
Lots of people think you can't!
21. Fluff from tumble driers
22. Old bedding plants
23. Pencil sharpenings
24. Woody prunings
Shred them or cut them up really small.
25. Nail clippings
Gross but true.
26. Egg shells
Neither green nor brown but they will leach calcium to your plants.
27. Used tissues
28. Apple cores
You won't kill the seeds but nobody minds a few apple trees.

29. Seaweed
30. Dead-headings
31. Envelopes
Take out the plastic windows and scrunch them up to trap air.
32. Cardboard packaging
33. Urine
Great compost activator.
34. Wooden toothpicks
35. Old cut flowers
36. Pet bedding
If your pet's a vegetarian, put droppings and natural-fibre bedding in.
37. Toilet and kitchen roll tubes
Leave them whole, there's air inside.
38. Potato peelings
Could spread potato blight but unlikely. Leave out if you're concerned.
39. Evergreen prunings
40. Natural fibre clothing
Best put over the compost heap in winter and left to rot down. Use in moderation.
41. Coffee grounds
42. Orange peel
Too acidic for wormeries but okay for ordinary compost bins.
43. Till receipts
44. Paper bags
45. Leftover salad
Even with a dressing on it, it's okay.
46. Hay
47. Straw
48. Fallen leaves
Strictly speaking you should compost these separately to make leafmold but you can use in moderation if you're short of browns.
49. Sawdust
50. Horse manure
Almost perfect mix of green and brown.
Julie is a lecturer in horticulture, editor of Gardenzine and author of The Plant Listener.