Best Compost Ingredients from Garden Waste and Yard Waste

by Alex Kountry
Updated on

They say, in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt — and for good reason — gardening! Like most gardeners, you are likely keen on taking your garden to the next level and might have considered making your compost pile from organic material. This segment will outline the best compost ingredients for a great compost pile.

More specifically, home composting is best done by making great use of things you can easily get, such as your kitchen waste, garden waste, or yard waste.

What Is Composting?

So what is composting? By understanding the composting process, you can better understand what ingredients your pile should include when creating usable compost.

Composting Ingredients from Kitchen Waste

Image Credit:

Compost piles are made from organic materials that have undergone a natural decomposition process (controlled and aerobic). This process converts compost material into a nutrient-rich soil additive or mulch.

The decomposition process occurs as the composting microorganisms feed on the materials in the compost pile. As these microorganisms feed, they use nitrogen and carbon content to grow and reproduce. In addition, they use water to digest the organic materials. The end product is a dark, crumbly compost pile with an earthy smell.

Why Should You Compost at Home?

Compost piles are mainly made up of organic waste. The raw materials are green, organic disposable materials from your kitchen, garden, and home.

Compost Piles are Mainly Made Up of Organic Waste that Comes from the Kitchen or Garden

Image Credit:

But unfortunately, a lot of this goes to your trash and landfills. In fact, according to data collected by the United States EPA, paper-like shredded newspaper and cardboard account for 23.1 % of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. Yard trimmings and food account for 33.7 %.

This is more than half of the total waste, which is a lot of waste to dump in landfills when it could be environmentally beneficial as compost instead!

What Are the Benefits of Adding Compost to Soil?

Adding compost to your soil is one way to save money when you need to enrich your soil with some soil amendments.

Add Compost to Soil to Enrich Your Soil

Image Credit:

Besides that, the organic matter in compost piles also:

  • Improves the health and structure of your soil
  • Helps soil retain nutrients and moisture
  • Supports beneficial organisms in the soil
  • Help reduces the need for fertilizers and pesticides through the microorganisms present
  • Reduces chances of soil erosion.
  • Sequesters of carbon in the soil
  • Builds resilience to climate change

Compost is one of the best soil conditioners for:

  • House plants
  • Lawns
  • Trees
  • Annual and perennial plants
  • Bulb plants
  • Flower and vegetable beds
  • Potted/container plants

Making compost piles at home allows you to use the food scraps from the kitchen and dry leaves and grass or wood chips from your lawn.

Let’s now get down to the good stuff. Here is all you need to know for the home composting process.

Home Composting

Ingredients You Will Need for Home Composting

To make your pile, you will need various brown and green ingredients. The more varied organic materials you use, the richer your compost pile will be.

Compost ingredients can be mainly divided into two basic categories:

a) Brown materials are high in carbon content and are a source of energy for the compost microorganisms. Examples of this include leaves, hay, straw, and paper.

Brown materials

Image Credit:

b) Green compost materials have a much higher nitrogen content which speeds up the decomposition process. Examples include grass clippings, fresh manure, and vegetable trimmings (most green plant cuttings). They should also be used sparingly.

Green Compost Materials

Image Credit:

Tip: To make it easier to remember, brown materials are mostly dry and hard, while green materials are soft, wet, or fresh, with some exceptions.

Making compost should be easy if you have a proper balance of these composting ingredients:

1. Carbon-rich Ingredients (‘Browns’)

As mentioned earlier, carbon-rich material is food for the microbes to consume and digest. These include things like dry leaves, twigs, and plant stalks. Other high carbon-rich materials include shredded paper, egg cartons, and cardboard.

These items should be shredded before throwing into the compost pile.

2. Nitrogen-rich materials (‘Greens’)

Nitrogen-rich materials add nitrogen that heats the pile, creating the ideal condition for breaking down materials. Nitrogen sources include alfalfa meal, grass clipping, yard trims, food and vegetable scraps, blood meal, coffee grounds, paper filters, cottonseed meal, or finished manure.

Avoid things like fish, meat, and bones.

3. Finished Compost

You should also consider adding a little finished compost when making a new pile, which helps balance the ratio of nutrients in a pile. You can purchase some from a local nursery, from fellow gardeners who have a compost pile, or through online platforms. Great convenient picks online include:

A. Jobe's Organics: Fast Acting Fertilizer Compost Starter

Jobe's Organics 09926 Fast Acting Fertilizer Compost Starter, 4 Pound
  • Organic compost starter with Biozome; Speeds up the composting process; Ideal for compost piles
  • OMRI listed for organic gardening by USDA;
  • Jobe’s Biozome.the proprietary microorganism archaea that aggressively breaks down organic material for faster...
  • Jobe’s Biozome improves soil conditions, and drought during the growing season
  • Easy pour bag; Guaranteed fertilizer analysis: (4-4-2) 4 pound bag; Apply every 4 to 6 weeks

Last update on 2023-01-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The secret in Jobe's Biozome Organic Compost Starter is a consortium of 3 microorganisms, which include mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria, and a unique species of the Archaea.

Image Credit:

Archaea is a microorganism that quickly breaks down even the most complex minerals and materials into simpler nutrients and trace elements that plants can easily absorb. The 4-4-2 composition promotes a fast composting process and increases microbial activity.

Additionally, this compost starter contains fully organic matter, which helps break down organic matter in your pile.

B. GREEN PIG Compost Accelerator

GREEN PIG Compost Accelerator Converts Yard Waste to Fertile Humus in 30 Days and Helps Control...
  • Contains beneficial bacteria that accelerate the natural composting process
  • Converts yard waste to fertile humus in as little as 30 days
  • Helps control odors associated with compost piles
  • Each dissolvable tablet treats 9 Cubic Feet of compost

Last update on 2023-01-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

As you would guess, the Green Pig Compost Accelerator accelerates the natural decomposing process. The bacteria in this compost starter are already found in the soil, so this compost simply adds more to the pile that just started composting, speeding things up.

Image Credit:

This compost accelerator comes in the form of a dissolvable tablet that can convert up to 9 Cubic feet of compost into fertile humus in 30 days. Additionally, it's a great way to control odor from a compost pile.

C. Charlie's Compost

Last update on 2023-01-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Charlie’s Compost is an organic soil amendment and natural fertilizer.

Image Credit:

Charlie's Compost comprises superior-quality compost inputs that transform your pile into a high-nutrient pile. It has ingredients that include antibiotic-free chicken manure, disease-free biochar, pesticide-free grass, and organic crop scraps.

D. Roebic CA-1 Bacterial Compost Accelerator

Roebic CA-1 Bacterial Compost Accelerator, 2.5 LBS
  • Complete formula for composting
  • Buffered to maintain pH
  • Effective in wide temperature ranges
  • Easy to use
  • Boosts biological activity

Last update on 2023-02-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Roebic CA-1 BC1 accelerator is a bacterial compost accelerator that uses an all-natural calcium and magnesium-rich formula. This is good news for anyone planning to make compost since you won't need to add lime, making composting so easy.

Image Credit: roebiclaboratories

The Roebic CA-1 BC1 formula rapidly increases biological activity and continues to work even when the compost is turned over and exposed to open air.

E. Kitchen Waste Wizard Compost Accelerator

Kitchen Waste Wizard Compost Accelerator, 50g Spout Pack, (100% Natural Concentrate)
  • Starter and accelerator to create nutrient-rich compost in just 4 weeks
  • Reduces unpleasant and unhealthy odors, perfect for kitchen scrap bins
  • Over 60 different active ingredients, fast, effective and easy to use
  • Chemical and poison free - safe and natural activator, booster and enhancer
  • Suitable for all composting systems and worm farms

Last update on 2023-02-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Kitchen Waste Wizard Compost Accelerator formula contains more than 60 active ingredients and turns organic matter into nutrient-rich compost within four weeks. This makes it quite potent.

Image Credit:

What’s more, this chemical-free and non-toxic formula come in an easy-to-use spout pack, ideal for gardeners, any composting setup, and worm farms. The Kitchen Waste Wizard Compost Accelerator mix works quite fast, so you’ll have a nutrient-rich, eco-friendly compost pile within four weeks.

What’s more, this chemical-free and non-toxic formula come in an easy-to-use spout pack, ideal for gardeners, any composting setup, and worm farms. The Kitchen Waste Wizard Compost Accelerator mix works quite fast, so you’ll have a nutrient-rich, eco-friendly compost pile within four weeks.

4. Water (Moisture Content)

The moisture content should be just right. Remember that green materials tend to be wetter, so check the amount you throw in.

5. Air (Oxygen)

Regularly turning the compost helps provide a steady supply of oxygen into the pile, which is a great way to speed up the composting process. Besides maintaining a steady supply of oxygen, you can use the best tools to turn the compost and create passageways for moisture and eliminate odors. This is also a great way to reheat the pile.

6. Other Materials to Consider

Throwing in some of these materials helps provide other nutrients for a healthy compost:

i) Mineral-rich algae, lake weed, or kelp meal; just be sure to rinse off the salt water before adding it to the pile.

ii) Wood ash is alkaline and helps adjust the pH of your pile just in case you’ve added a lot of acidic materials. You can also use ash from fruit waste or vegetable peels. This type of ash is rich in potassium and phosphorus and is great for your compost pile. You might need to add this several times since potassium gets washed away in the rain.

NB: You cannot use coal ash since it’s this coal ash is toxic.

iii) Pine needles don’t provide as many nutrients, but they are an easy and good source of organic matter, adding the right texture to your pile. Pine needles might take a while to break down, and a lot of it may make your compost pile too acidic, so you should add the right quantity.

iv) Whole corn cobs help provide aeration in the compost bin, so they should be placed either at the bottom or within the pile.

v) Compost piles are bound to attract pests, so crushed eggshells help keep things like slugs and other pests from your pile. They also provide Calcium which is essential for healthy plant growth. Crushed eggs in the pile can also be used to improve drainage in the soil.

vi) Flower petals are broken down easily and are a great way to provide moisture and nitrogen.

NB: Too much brown material results in a pile that takes a while to break down, and on the other hand, too much green material results in a smelly, slimy pile that does not effectively heat up. For these reasons, getting just the right balance of materials is important. Additionally, this means you won’t need to worry about the pH balance in your soil.

What Is the Correct Mix of Compost Ingredients?

Since the microorganisms and organisms such as worms in the compost need both carbon (for energy) and nitrogen contents (nitrogen for protein synthesis) to thrive, getting the correct mix is vital.

Compost Organisms

Image Credit:

As a rule of thumb, for the bacteria to work efficiently, ensure that for every 1 unit of nitrogen, there are about 30 units of carbon.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to get an accurate carbon to nitrogen (C: N) ratio of 30:1. However, by approximating the C: N ratio of the ingredients used in the compost, we can achieve a near possibility of 30:1. It may sound a little complicated, but it’s really not.

For instance, here are some ingredients you can use to achieve this ratio:

  • Dry autumn leaves usually have a C: N ratio of roughly 50:1.

  • Food scraps, like vegetable and fruit peelings or coffee grounds, usually have a C: N ratio of roughly 12:1.

  • Grass clippings usually have a C: N ratio of roughly 20-30:1.

  • Sawdust fresh, which usually has a C: N ratio of roughly 500:1, and rotten piles, which usually have a C: N ratio of roughly 200:1.

Getting the right mix is a matter of trial and error, which gets easier with a few tries.

Ingredients to Avoid

Not everything should be thrown into your compost pile; here are a few items you should avoid:

  • Raspberry and blackberry brambles.

  • Long or big twigs or branches.

  • Pet droppings, especially dog or cat litter.

  • Animal products such as bones, meat, milk, butter, or fish skin can ‘overheat’ the compost pile, making it stinky enough to attract animals.

  • Coal ash contains high amounts of sulfur and iron, which can damage plants.

  • Ink on colored paper, like newsprints, contains heavy metals and other toxic materials that should not be added to a compost pile.

  • Diseased plants might contain disease organisms that can be spread later when the compost is used, so avoid questionable plant materials.

  • Inorganic materials, including plastics, aluminum foil, glass, and metals, should not be added to the compost.

  • Meat, Bones, Fish, Fats, Dairy.

  • Pet Droppings – Dog or cat droppings contain several disease organisms and can make compost toxic to handle.

  • Synthetic chemicals, like some lawn and garden chemicals (herbicides and pesticides), don’t decompose and can stop the composting process. So, avoid putting anything recently sprayed into your compost heap.

Note: Compost heaps have an extraordinary ability to break down pesticides and pollutants but cannot handle large quantities on recently treated plants. This is probably a good reason to encourage your neighbors to reduce lawn and park spraying programs.

Because of this, grass clippings where pesticides have recently been used should not be used in a compost heap.

Optimum Mix Compositions

Different plants will need different compost compositions for optimum growth.

a. Indoor Plants

Always wait until your compost pile is completely done before you use it on indoor plants.

Indoor Plants

Image Credit:

Mature house plants benefit most from an inch of a compost pile mixed into the top 1-2 inches of soil.

b. Potted or Container Plants

Container plants benefit most from mature compost added to the potting soil.

Potted or Container Plants

Image Credit:

Just ensure to use it only in the container to avoid burning tender stems or roots.

c. New Planting Area

You can give your new planting areas a healthy boost by mixing in as much compost as you can.

New Planting Area

Image Credit:

An optimum amount is up to four inches into the upper 6-12 inches of soil.

Established planting areas benefit most from 1-2 inches of compost that is dug into the top few inches of the soil. Always leave a gap between the compost and the plant’s roots to avoid burning its roots. The nutrients can find their way into the plant roots.

d. Lawn

An established lawn does well with up to ½” of finished compost. The compost used as a top dressing should be fully decomposed and broken down. You can also run the compost through a fine compost screen to help keep out any of the chunky bits.


Image Credit:

You can use a fertilizer spreader on larger areas but spread it by hand or shovel on smaller areas. It’s also important to aerate the lawn before spreading compost since this enables the compost to filter down under the chucks easily.

e. Trees and Shrubs

Trees and shrubs do well with 1-2 inches spread over the soil’s surface.

Trees and Shrubs

Image Credit:

When using compost for tree dressing, you can start 6 inches from the trunk and spread out to the edge of the drip line.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Best Compost Ingredients

1. How to turn the ingredients in a compost pile?

If the pile is correctly made, the internal temperature should be about 140° F in 7-10 days. Ideally, the compost pile should heat up to 160° F to destroy any weed seeds or pathogens within it. It would be helpful to get a reliable compost thermometer at this stage.

Turning A Compost Pile

Image Credit:

Helpful bacteria need air (oxygen) to survive, so they will start to die off within a week or so as the available air in the pile starts getting used up. The drop in the number of bacteria results in the cooling off of the compost heap, a little from the peak temperature. So when this happens, it’s time to turn your compost pile to get more air into it.

As you turn the compost pile, start by moving the drier material on the outer edge into the center of the pile. Also, break any clumps of grass clippings or leaves to ensure that your pile gets as much air as possible. Moisten your pile as you go, especially if it seems a bit too dry.

Generally, you should turn the heap after every 14 days or so or when the temperature falls from its next peak (110° – 120° F). So, the more you turn your pile, the faster you will get your finished compost.

Using an aerator tool or a plastic compost bin makes the job of turning compost heaps much easier. A garden fork is the best tool to use when turning compost, especially in an open bin.

2. What happens if I don’t have enough ingredients to fill the compost bin all at once?

To avoid lacking enough ingredients, save ingredients you come across whenever possible. When you get your hands on brown materials like autumn leaves, you can save them in bags or separate bins near your compost bin.

When you have put enough green material in your compost heap (ideally 4 inches), you can cover the rest that you are considering saving or start building another pile. It can take 4 weeks- 12 months to finally produce a finished compost pile. This time frame varies widely depending on the method and materials used.

Photo of author

About the author

Alex Kountry

Alex Kountry is the founder of HayFarmGuy and has been a backyard farmer for over 10 years. Since then he has decided to write helpful articles that will help you become a better backyard farmer and know what to do. He also loves to play tennis and read books


HayFarmGuy - Get Info About Farm Animals in Your Inbox

Leave a Comment