Less Noise, More Green: Urban composting: green and brown ingredients

Friday, March 21, 2014

Urban composting: green and brown ingredients

Lush vegetable gardens need lots of compost. This is my garden, last August.

Spring is being such a tease this year! One day in the 50s, the next in the 30s. I have so much digging to do and less and less time to do it. One thing I can do now is start putting my compost plan into action.

Gardening in an urban setting comes with a unique set of challenges, not least of which is creating compost. Making compost requires lots of raw materials and finding those materials in a small garden is not always easy! To make compost, you need a mix of "greens" and "browns".

compost ingredients, urban farming

Greens (nitrogen sources) include the following: fruit and vegetable scraps (no meats, dairy or cooked foods), crushed egg shells, tea bags, coffee grounds, grass clippings and dead plants (disease free) chopped small. Aged manure from horses, cows, chickens can also be added to the compost pile. I add the mature manure to my beds separately because it comes from my friend Roda and I know it has been composted correctly and the pile has reached the correct internal temperature to kill the pathogens,  which is between 130 and 160 degrees F.

composting, urban farming

Browns (carbon sources) include: straw, shredded newspapers (not glossy inserts), ripped up dye free cardboard, prunings, cut up leaves, broken up cardboard egg cartons, dryer lint, pine needles (no  more than 20% of the pile), sawdust and wood shavings.

My compost bin, covered in sap and needles from the pine tree.

The ratio of greens to browns is one part greens, to three parts browns. That's a lot of browns! I never have a problem finding greens, especially in the summer with all the fresh fruit and vegetables I grow. The volume of browns, however, is always a problem. Having a small urban garden, I don't have the cuttings and clippings more rural properties produce. We have lost several trees to disease over the last few years so leaf mold is hard to come by, too. I do have a pine tree, so needles are plentiful but they are acidic, so need to be added sparingly. Be careful adding cardboard and papers that are covered with inks. Most newspapers use vegetable dyes so should be OK to use.

This year I am more prepared. Through out the winter I have been collecting newspapers, dryer lint and cardboard boxes. My plan is to have a steady supply of torn up papers and cardboard ready to add to the browns I throw into the pile every time I add some greens. By the fall, I should have some beautiful compost to add to the beds.

As I build my pile this year, I'll share my process and progress and some tips to maximize the yield!

Do you compost?


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  4. Unless your clothes are 100% natural material you do NOT want to include dryer lint in your compost. Lots of fabrics are petroleum blends aka plastic fibers!