Big leaved tropical plants

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Compost Ingredients

There are two primary sources for your garden compost ingredients:  The kitchen and the garden.

For the process of composting to take place smoothly, a balance of nitrogen and carbon is needed.  Without worrying too much about science, the nitrogen is found in soft green mushy bits such as leaves, grass and kitchen waste.  Carbon is found in hard things such as stems, branches and wood derivatives such as paper and cardboard.

A very useful piece of equipment to have in the kitchen is a small plastic bucket with a lid.  This can be kept under the sink and used exclusively for collecting compostable material.  An open container kept on the counter top does not look all that attractive and requires frequent emptying.  Line the bottom of the bucket with kitchen paper to prevent it from becoming too revolting too soon.

Suitable compost ingredients found in the kitchen include

  • All uncooked vegetable waste and fruit (peel off those annoying little labels)
  • Egg shells (good for drainage)
  • Egg boxes (labels removed)
  • Cardboard tubes from toilet and kitchen paper
  • Kitchen paper that has been used to wipe up non chemical spills
  • Tea bags
  • Coffee grounds
  • Paper napkins
  • Till receipts containing credit card details
  • Take away pizza boxes (tear and add directly to the heap)
If all these items are added regularly to the kitchen bucket it keeps a good balance of nitrogen to carbon.  If you only ever used vegetable waste, particularly in the winter time, your compost heap could get a little slimy.
  • Large amounts of cardboard and newspapers are best recycled through the normal channels.

Other household waste that can be used include:

  • Sawdust and waste from the cages of pet rodents.  Add directly to the compost pile.
  • Shredded documents.  These make excellent partners to lawn clippings.  Reserve these exclusively for when you are mowing the lawn.

Compost ingredients to be used with caution:

  • Cooked vegetable waste
  • Fish guts and skeletons

Both these items break down easily.  The thing is not to throw them on the top of your compost pile.  Both items will attract animals such as foxes or whatever your local vermin happens to be.  Fish left on the surface will soon smell unpleasant.  Using a spade or garden fork, open up a deepish hole in the top of compost.  Put your fish guts in the hole and cover over.  Fish waste breaks down very quickly.  (Fish in this sense is meant if you have the occasional trout for dinner, not if you are a regular deep sea angler returning weekly with bucketfuls of the stuff).

If you are uncomfortable about using fish and cooked vegetables just throw out these items with your normal rubbish.

On the subject of animals, some people resist having a garden compost bin because they fear it will attract rats or other animals.  The animals are out there anyway.  Not having a compost heap will not keep you in some animal free vacuum.

Compost ingredients to avoid:

  • Meat or bones in any shape or form (except fish as outlined above)
  • Cat litter plus contents

Suitable material for garden compost found in the garden include:

  • Anything that grows

Exceptions to the rule:

  • Wood.  Logs and branches are best cut into sections.  These can then be used to create havens for beneficial insects.(Log piles)
  • Roots of perennial weeds such as dandelion and bindweed.  A typical garden compost heap will not heat up sufficiently to kill these roots.  By adding them to your compost bin you run the risk of spreading them through out the garden.  
  • Diseased plant material such as virused canna.
  • Bamboo.  Bamboo waste is best shredded and used exclusively for mulching bamboo.
  • Autumn leaves.  Composting leaves separately produces an excellent weed free surface mulch.

Use with caution:

  • Annual weeds.  It is often said that annual weeds should not be added to compost.  They often contain seeds that will go through the composting system unharmed.  Annual weeds are nitrogen rich and help the composting process which relies on nitrogen.  With tropical gardening most of the compost you produce will be dug into the soil.  Most annual weed seeds require light for germination and wont cause too much of a problem tucked up under ground.  Avoid using home-made compost as a surface mulch around established plants and you will not be bothered too much by annual weeds.  


  • Dog and or fox mess.