Garden of Eatin' / How-To / Soil Fertility

The Other Stuff You Can Compost (Besides Kitchen Scraps)

Wood ash from a potbelly stove

The other week I was doing some spring cleaning, and clearing out the last remnants of our cold weather — the wood ash from our potbelly stove.

But what exactly can you do with wood ash?

Good news, garden betties and dudes: If you have a compost bin, this natural source of potassium and phosphorus helps maintain the pH balance of your compost heap while it decomposes.

Since wood ash is derived from plant material, it’s an effective organic fertilizer that contains beneficial nutrients for plant growth. The fertilizer value of wood ash depends on the type of wood burned. Hardwoods, such as oak, contain higher amounts of nutrients than softwoods like pine.

Assuming you didn’t burn synthetic starter logs or treated, stained or painted wood, that pile of ash from your fireplace is full of potassium carbonate (also known as potash) that adds the necessary carbon (brown material) to your compost.

Since I have a large compost bin that tends to be very acidic, I just dump the whole tray of wood ash into my tumbler and give it a few good spins. If your compost is smaller, save your wood ash and sprinkle a thin layer every time you add more scraps to your bin (especially acidic scraps, such as citrus peels or coffee grounds).

Adding wood ash to the compost heap

Besides wood ash, what other household waste can be composted?

You likely already know that you can compost most kitchen scraps: eggshells, vegetable peels, spoiled fruit, odds and ends from your crisper bin.

And technically, you can compost any organic material out there… but I’m not going to list some of the stranger stuff you may have heard about, because let’s face it, are you really going to compost your nail clippings?

Here is a practical list of items around the house that will break down easily in your compost bin:

  • Leftover beer from parties (now you can’t be too mad at your friends! — the yeast makes beer a good compost activator, but only add enough liquid to keep your compost moist, not soggy)
  • Wine past its prime (another good compost activator)
  • Wine corks
  • Wooden popsicle sticks
  • Paper egg cartons
  • Paper coffee filters
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Old spices and dried herbs
  • Stale bread, cereal and crackers
  • Burnt toast
  • Cooked plain pasta
  • Cooked plain rice
  • Fruit and vegetable pulp from a juicer or food mill
  • Freezer-burned vegetables
  • Wood ash (from untreated wood)
  • Sawdust (from untreated wood)
  • Weeds (completely dried out and dead, to be on the safe side, and without flowers or seeds)
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves and pine needles
  • Dead flower bouquets and house plants
  • Paper towels and napkins (without grease)
  • Tissues and cotton balls (without chemicals)
  • Cage litter from small pets (birds, rabbits, hamsters)
  • Recycled newspaper pots

And for you homebrewers out there:

  • Spent hops and spent grains (dog owners should keep their compost secure and inaccessible, as spent hops and grains are toxic to dogs if ingested)
  • Pomace (winemaking waste, either fermented or unfermented)
About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

4 Comments

  • Linda Ly
    August 17, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Interesting! I’ve always seen bags of gypsum at the nursery. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
  • Andre David Bowers
    August 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Hi , I love your  garden site. I have another item to add to your list of “other items to add to the Compost list. It’s gypsum board :  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drywall 
    I got the idea from an older gentleman in my home town who has been gardening for 40 years.  Gypsum is a great source of “Calcium” which is  so necessary for growing  tomatoes and peppers!

    Reply
  • Lisa @ littlecoffeebeans
    February 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

    we also compost our junk mail and any mail that has our name/address etc that one might typically shred. paper breaks down in no time!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 22, 2012 at 6:19 pm

       Smart!

      Reply

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