One of the most valuable resources you can have as a gardener is compost. I can tell you from experience that you can never have enough compost to meet all of your needs. Compost is essential for good soil building. As materials break down into smaller components through composting they turn into usable elements that plants can use for growth.
Compost can change clay soil into premium soil with rich nutrients. Through composting you can create a soil with better structure for roots to grow in and create a more waterwise garden. Compost will balance the water retention in the soil and if the conditions are right can create the right environment for many plants whether vegetable plants or ornamental.
Compost can be used as a lawn additive to help improve the soil structure of the lawn and can be used around the drip line to trees to encourage positive root growth. There are so many uses for compost that I’ll probably need to write a post on just that. Today I want to give you some ideas of sources where you can find compost materials to help make gardener’s gold!
Sources for Compost Material
When sourcing compost material let’s start close to home first. These composting materials you can source yourself or through your garden.
Vegetable Scraps from The Kitchen
If you like gardening you probably like cooking. If you don’t like cooking you probably at least like eating so let’s start there! When you cut and chop vegetables you end up with scraps of vegetables you probably won’t eat. Those kitchen scraps are perfect for feeding to your compost bin.
Coffee Grounds from the Kitchen for Compost
I make coffee each morning in our kitchen and so we gather a lot of coffee grounds. Those grounds usually go directly to the compost bin. Coffee grounds are a nitrogen rich material that can help heat up your compost bin.
Compost Your Leaves
Leaves are an amazing composting resource! The natural process of leaves breaking down in the forests creates a wonderful loamy soil over the years of repeated leaf drop. Use that in your garden if you have access to a lot of trees. Just rake them up and toss them in the bin. If you mix the leaves with other compost sources the leaves will help form small air pockets. The air is essential for the composting process.
A landscaper I knew was collecting leaves from people’s yards and I asked him to dump a load off by our house. I paid him $10 for him to drop it off and had a huge pile of compost material to add to my garden!
Grass Clippings in Compost Bins
While you could simply allow the grass clippings to compost in your lawn why not use those clippings in the compost bin? Initially they will have nitrogen and help heat up your bin then gradually will turn brown and become good organic matter that breaks down quickly. The easiest way to gather grass clippings is to have a lawn mower with a bagging attachment and dumping loads of grass clippings into your bin. I also use grass clippings as a mulch and to help build soil in raised beds.
Beer and Wine
Yep, beer and wine can help your compost bin. The drinks serve as more of a compost activator than a compost material but the yeast in the beer and wine helps compost materials break down faster. If you’ve had a gathering or party and guests have left half drunk cans of beer around toss the leftover beer into the bin. Compost bins are more effective when then have the right amount of moisture and beer in the compost bin will help.
Spent Grains from Home Brewing in Compost
Related to the beer if you are a home brewer all that leftover material you have from homebrewing can go right into the bin. Yeast and spent grains can be great materials in the bin. Make sure that if you do use this you mix the compost materials with other sources to prevent bad smells from emerging from the bin. The spent grains can compact together and create an anaerobic situation. Mix the spent grains with other materials on this list and you will be fine.
Tree Branches and Sticks in Compost
Small branches and sticks thrown in the compost bin are compostable and can help create air pockets to improve composting. Mix branches and sticks in with the other compost materials to help improve composting speed and effectiveness!
Logs and Cut Wood
Logs and cut wood take longer to break down but they are an essential element in hugelkultur gardens. They are used as the base layer of the hugelkulter beds and can contain a lot of moisture. Eventually the logs break down and change into good usable compost.
Can You Compost Cotton Clothing?
This is a little more unusual but if you have old clothing that no longer can be worn rather than throw it away check the label and see if it’s cotton. Cotton is a plant product that will break down in a compost bin just fine. I have thrown old pairs of jeans in the compost. You may want to remove the zippers and any elastic parts first or you may find them when you go to use your compost in a few months! It’s kind of fun to see an old button from a pair of jeans you used to wear years later in the garden.
Sourcing Compost Materials from You Community
Once you’ve exhausted all of your home sources for compost or if you see these opportunities you should reach out to your community. Here are several places you can find raw materials for building more compost.
Local farmers will often have piles of manure that can be used in compost! Since they literally compile piles of compost manure can often be found for free, or for just a small fee. When using manure you want to make sure it composts for about 6 months before using in the garden.
Chicken, horse, and cow manures are all fairly common but you may also be able to find goat, alpaca, or other grazing animal manures. Mix the manure with other types of compost materials to help improve the efficiency of compost for all of you compost ingredients.
Coffee shops already know about coffee and compost and many of them may already leave a bag of spent grounds by the door for gardeners. If you don’t make coffee at home coffee shops might be a great way to get grounds for your compost bins.
Breweries and Wineries
I mentioned earlier that beer, wine, and waste products from home brewing can be used in composting so why not talk to lower breweries and wineries? They will have leftover materials that they will need to dispose of which can be perfect for your compost bin!
Wood Chips from Tree Cutters
Tree cutting services have a ton of waste wood chips that need to be dumped. Wood chips take time to break down but will change into a rich compost in time. Below is a video on the wood chips I used to fill up my raised beds. It’s an awesome free resource!
Local saw mills generate a lot of waste saw dust. Since it’s usually from trees and not treated it can be a good additive to compost bins. Don’t use it directly on the soil as it can leach nitrogen out of the ground for a time.
Restaurants have a lot of waste materials from vegetable clippings. It’s like your home kitchen on steroids! I recommend talking to smaller, local, non-chain restaurants to see if you can work out a compost collecting schedule. Juicers have a ton of vegetable and plant waste that otherwise they would need to throw away.
This list is not complete but is a great starting resource for you to find more composting materials. Think outside the box (or the bin) and see what ideas you can come up with for getting more gardeners gold in your garden!