Brown Materials:

Eggshells: (minimal impact)

  • They take a long time to break down, but they provide calcium and are a good addition to compost piles.​​​​​

Hay: (15-30:1)

  • All types of spoiled hay make an excellent addition to compost piles.

Leaves: (50-80:1) dead or dry are considered brown materials

  • Below is a list of some types of leaves to pay special attention to:

  • Walnut leaves should be avoided as they contain substances that inhibit the growth of many plants. Only use if they are thoroughly composted.

  • Oak leaves take a long time to break down because they are high in acid and levels of tannin. They are excellent for acid loving plants, but will take much longer to decompose than other leaves. If you wish to speed up the composting process for your main pile, separate out oak leaves and create a separate pile for them that can be used for plants that prefer acidic soils.

Paper & Cardboard: (150-200:1)

  • Should be shredded first to speed up the composting process; avoid using glossy or highly colored papers; cardboard should be broken into small pieces or made into a slurry before it is added to the pile.

Sawdust: (400-1)

  • Use small amounts and in very thin layers; never use pressure treated wood sawdust because it can leach arsenic into the soil.

Straw: (80:1)

  • Provides less nitrogen than hay, but it will provide more than double the carbon. Straw takes longer to break down, but it is good in areas with clay soils as it helps open up the soil structure.

Tea Bags: (minimal impact)

  • Either loose leaves or in a bag are fine.

Wood Ash: (25:1)

  • Use sparingly to avoid high pH levels that will limit microbial activity, which aids in the composting process.

Cone Method:

When your pile is constructed it should sit for about a week, or until the internal temperature reaches between 120-170 degrees Fahrenheit (Composting thermometers can be found online). At this point, the pile needs to be turned. This can be done with an aeration tool, or by using a pitch fork to stack the outside contents from around the pile next to the original pile, and then placing the inside contents on top of the new pile. After the initial turn, this process should be done every couple of days to continue the decomposition process.

When the materials within your pile have turned dark brown, and the contents are no longer recognizable−your compost pile should be ready for use.

Common Examples of Green and Brown Compost Materials 

Community Recycling in Calumet County

​Bedding Material:

​Harvesting Your Compost:​

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Before you begin to construct your compost pile, it is important to remember to incorporate water into the material. Each layer that you add should be misted with water until the material reaches the consistency of a damp sponge. If you squeeze the material after water is applied, the material should be close to dripping. 

Note: If you wish to water the compost pile after it is constructed, wet the pile until water starts to come out of the bottom. 

While any Earth Worm will feed on food scraps, vermicomposting requires the use of worms that are best suited for the environment. Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida) and Red Worms (Lumbricus rubellus)​ are the two best types of worms to use for vermicomposting because they live within the top 12 inches of soil (perfect for composting), they are able to live in highly populated areas, and they will typically swarm to their food. 

To purchase Red Wigglers or Red Worms, the easiest way is to contact your local bait shop to see if they carry either species, or you can order them online. If you order them online, the cost of each species will vary, but you can expect to find them for approximately $25 per pound (plus shipping). 

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The cool composting method uses the same ratio of two parts brown to one part green materials, but it does not require you to add water to the pile. The compost pile should also be constructed in a similar fashion as the hot composting method (brown, greenbrownbrowngreenbrown, etc.) with layers approximately 2-3 inches thick. The base layer for a cool composting pile should also consist of brown materials to promote air flow. 

If your pile does start to smell, turning the pile and adding a small amount of wood shavings can be the solution to decreasing the smell. Odor coming from a compost pile is often the result of too much water, too many green materials, or food scraps not being buried deep enough. For any method of composting, if constructed properly, the pile should not have a strong odor.

Yes - unlike yard waste composting sites, which do not accept food scraps, hot composting, cool composting, and vermicomposting are some of the best ways to get rid of food scraps (and to have a positive impact upon the environment). By composting your food scraps instead of throwing them away in the garbage, you are helping reduce the total amount of materials being sent to the landfill, and having the added benefit of making your very own inexpensive form of fertilizer. 

​Can You Use Any Type of Worm for Vermicomposting?

How Many Worms Will I Need?

why compost?

Depending on the size of your operation, you compost will be ready anywhere from 2-6 months. You will be able to tell that you compost is ready when the contents of your bin are dark brown, small, and no longer recognizable. Because this method uses worms to create compost, it can sometimes be difficult to harvest the finished product. There are several different methods you can use to safely remove the compost, while causing little harm to your worms. 

The best way to incorporate food scraps into your compost pile is to bury the scraps approximately 8-10 inches into the center of the material, and then cover it with brown material. This method should reduce the odor, and keep unwanted pests away.

Even though a wide variety of food scraps are excellent for composting, there are several items that you should avoid putting in your compost pile. Below are lists of some of the common acceptable and unacceptable food items for your compost pile:

When to Turn Your Pile:

Constructing Your Vermicomposting Bin:

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Migration Method:

Unacceptable Food Items:

  • ​Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, butter, sauces, or food containing these, etc.)
  • Meat, poultry, fish, lard, any type of bones fertelizer
  • Foods containing oils or fats such as peanut butter, salad dressing, mayonnaise, margarine, cooking oil, and a wide variety of sauces.
  • Note: Many of these ingredients are acceptable for larger-scale composting programs, but home composting does not create the conditions necessary to successfully compost them without odor or pest problems.

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Composting is a natural process in which organic materials decompose into a humus-like material that can be used as a natural soil enhancement. ​Composting can be one of the most beneficial practices you can use to improve the quality of the environment. Composting not only can provide you with a cheap source of fertilizer, but it also reduces the amount of materials being sent to the landfill. 

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Once your bin is constructed and you have purchased worms, you will need to find bedding material for your worms. There is a wide variety of materials that can be used for bedding in your bin, so you will have to decide which material is best suited for your situation. 

Some of the best materials to use for bedding are cardboard and paper. Cardboard boxes and egg containers are perfect materials for bedding in your compost bin. Simply shred the materials, as seen in the image, and spray with water as you add it to your bin. 

Hot composting involves a combination of brown materials, green materials, water, and periodic turning to create compost. Brown materials give your compost pile the necessary carbon, which provides a source of energy for compost microbes. Brown materials would include materials such as dry leaves, wood chips, and straw. Green materials give your compost pile the necessary nitrogen, which is an excellent source of protein for compost microbes. Nitrogen is what helps to speed up the decomposition process in your compost pile. Green materials would include items such as grass clippings, plant cuttings, and vegetable scraps. 

It is important to maintain a proper carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio within your compost pile. If you do not maintain a good C:N ratio, the microorganisms that are vital to the decomposition process will not be able to thrive in your compost pile. It is recommended that you maintain a 30:1 ratio of C:N by weight.

Note: If the ratios seem too complicated or confusing, you can work with volumes (size of the material, or the amount of space it takes up) of ingredients to simplify the process. Try to usegreen materials with ⅔ brown materials (for every bucket of green materials, add two buckets of brown materials). A list of some common brown and green materials, along with their C:N ratios, will be provided at the bottom of the page.

Vermicomposting Maintenance Tips:

One method that is relatively cheap and fast, but labor intensive, is the hot composting method.

Hot composting is ideal for households that have a lot of yard materials, and for people that are willing to actively mix the material. The hot composting process can take anywhere on average from 18 days to 2 months before it is usable compost. The hot composting method also has the added benefit of killing off weed seeds and pathogens that are otherwise present in other composting methods.

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The first thing you will need to begin your vermicomposting operation is a bin. Vermicomposting bins are unique from other composting bins in that they are shallow, and should not exceed 1.5 feet in height.

The dimensions of your bin will also depend upon the amount of food waste your household generates in a week. Your compost bin should be 1 square foot for every pound of food waste you generate in a week. For example, if your household generates 3 pounds of food waste each week, your compost bin should be at least 3 square feet in size. 

Vermicomposting is the process of using red worms to break down organic matter into a usable fertilizer. Vermicomposting is an excellent way to dispose of food scraps from within the comforts of your own home.

This composting method is great for apartments, or locations that do not have enough space for a traditional compost pile. 

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For more information about the methods described above, you can check out the DNR's Home Composting Guide, or simply search the internet for "home composting" to discover the many different methods available for composting at home.  

There are several options available for people that wish to try their hand at composting. The primary methods of composting described below are hot composting cool composting, and vermicomposting. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is up to you to decide what method works best for your situation. 

To start your compost pile, the base layer should consist of brown materials. This will help incorporate air into the bottom of your pile, and speed up the decomposition process. As you construct the pile, the easiest way is to alternate between layers of brown, green, and brown materials approximately 2-3 inches thick (brown, green, brown, brown, green, brown, etc.), while also incorporating a small amount of water into each layer. 

Vermicomposting does not require as much maintenance as hot composting, but to successfully vermicompost, a few easy steps are required to keep your worms happy and healthy. 

Avoid exposing your worms to direct light (unless harvesting compost). Exposure to light will dry out your worms, and can potentially kill them if exposed for extended periods of time. 

Worms require three primary things to keep them happy and healthy: food, moisture, and darkness. If you maintain the correct balance of each, your worms with thrive. 

Worms do not have teeth; because of this, they will require sand, other small rock fragments, or egg shells to help them with digestion. To keep your worms healthy, sprinkle some of these materials on top of your compost once a month, or when you add bedding, to aid in your worms' digestion. 

 For your worms to survive, your compost bin should be placed in an area where the temperature falls between 55-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many people will often place their bins under their kitchen sink or in their basement to maintain the correct environment. Your bin may also be placed outside, but additional insulation or shade will be required to stay within the ideal temperature zone.

One common problem that can be experienced during vermicomposting is the presence of pests such as fruit flies. One way to avoid attracting pests is to freeze your composting material before you add it to the compost bin. This process will not only kill off any fruit fly eggs, but it will also aid in the break down of your food scraps. 

You should avoid using onions, broccoli, ginger, garlic, and potato skins in your vermicomposting bin as they will take a long time to break down, and the can create odors. Other items to avoid include: bread, citrus fruits, meat, dairy products, candy, and heavily oiled products (potato chips). 

vermicomposting (worm composting)

The migration method may be one of the slowest methods for harvesting compost, but it does not require a lot of work on your end. To start, move all of the compost to one side of your bin, and place new bedding in the open space. When you go to add food to the compost bin, place the items in the area with new bedding, and avoid placing any new food items in the area you wish to harvest. Over time, the worms in your bin will travel to the area with new bedding in search of food. In 1-4 weeks, the worms in your bin will have moved to the new side of your compost bin and you will be able to harvest your compost. 

cool composting

Your vermicomposting bin should also have plenty of ventilation for your worms. If you are constructing your own bin, 1/4 inch holes should be drilled around the perimeter of the container to allow for adequate air flow. Holes may also be drilled into the bottom of the container to allow for excess water or leachate to drain out of the container, which will also improve the overall quality inside of your compost bin (do not forget to place a drip pan underneath your bin if you are using this method indoors). 

If you would rather buy a vermicomposting bin than make one, there is a wide array of them available online. Simply search "vermicomposting bin" and you will be able to find home composting bins ranging from a few dollars, up to several hundred dollars.

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When your pile is constructed, it should be at least 3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft., and no more than 5 ft. x 5 ft. x 5 ft. in size. If your pile is too small, it will not be able to reach the necessary temperatures to effectively breakdown, and kill off parasites and weed seeds; and if your pile is too big, it will take a lot longer to breakdown, and it will be hard manage. 

The easiest way to determine how many worms you will need for composting is to weigh up the amount of food scraps you produce in a given week, and divide by seven to calculate your daily average. In one day, worms will eat half of their body weight in food; so if you generate half a pound of food scraps per day, you can use one pound of worms in your compost bin. For most small households, one pound of worms will typically be enough to start. 

Note: When you first start your compost bin, give your worms time to adjust to their their new surrounds by reducing the amount of food scraps you give them. Worms can take up to two weeks to fully adjust to their new surrounds. Start out by giving your worms a small amount of food; when they eventually start to consume the food, slowly increasing the amount until you have reached your normal quantities. 

Acceptable Food Items:

  • ​Fruits: including peels, rinds, and cores
  • Vegetables: including pumpkin shells, and onion skins
  • Coffee grounds and paper filters
  • Tea leaves and bags without staples or sticks
  • Eggshells
  • Note: To speed up the composting process, it is best to break down these items into smaller pieces as this will provide more surface area for the microbes to work.

Constructing Your Hot Composting Pile:

One common question often asked about home composting is: "Can I add food scraps to any of these composting methods?"

hot composting

Home composting methods

When adding paper products, avoid materials that are glossy, bleached, or heavily colored. These materials could potentially be toxic to your worms, so it is best to avoid them in general. Most items such as newspapers, paper documents, and mail documents are perfect to use as bedding. Simply shred the materials into thin strips and spray with water as you add them to your bin. 

By shredding these materials, you are allowing for increased air flow in your compost bin, and making it easier for your worms and other microbes to break down the material. Other items that may be used for bedding include: coconut fiber, leaves, straw, hay, and wood chips. 

The cool composting method is for people that do not have enough material for the hot composting method (3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft.), or for people that have a large enough space to allow materials to accumulate for 1-2 years. This method is also good for people that want to put minimal effort into managing their compost pile. 

The cool composting method is not as intensive as hot composting because it does not require the pile to be turned. With the pile not being turned, it can take any where from 6 months to a year or more until the compost will be ready for use from this method.

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The cone method is faster than the migration method, but it involves a lot of hands-on work, and you should be prepared to get dirty. The cone method works by utilizing your worm's sensitivity to light to harvest the compost. To use this method, you will need a tarp, or something you are not afraid to get dirty, and a light source. Harvesting outside in a sunny location is ideal; but if you have to harvest inside, bright lights will be required for the entire process.

First, spread your tarp out and dump the contents of your compost bin onto the tarp. Next, you will need to form multiple cone shaped piles of material on the tarp. After a couple of minutes, you may begin to harvest the outside material of the cones until you begin to encounter worms. When the worms are exposed, they will dig deeper into the pile to avoid the sun, at which point, you will be able to repeat the process of removing compost from the piles until you are primarily left with worms at the bottom of the pile. 

If you are going to use this process, it allows for some multitasking while you wait for the worms to progress further down the pile, but you cannot wait too long as you worms will easily die if left in the sun for an extended period of time. 

​Note: There are many other methods that can be used to harvest your vermicompost. If neither of the methods above appeal to you, for more information on harvesting methods, simply search "vermicompost harvesting methods."

​Green Materials:

Vegetables and fruit scraps: (25:1)

  • It is best to use uncooked material, as the oil often used in the cooking process will slow down the composting process, and may attract unwanted animals.

Grass clippings: (20:1)

  • Grass clippings are very high in nitrogen and are best left on lawns where they will break down and decompose naturally to help feed the soil. If you do decide to use grass clippings in your compost pile, at first it is best to use them sparingly to prevent matting and clumping. Clumps and mats of grass tend to prevent air circulation in piles, and they can form slime which will release a rather unpleasant (but harmless) ammonia gas.  

Fresh manure: Poultry (7:1), Horse (22:1), Cow (18:1)

  • Manure contains a high level of nitrogen, which is important for getting your pile decomposing quickly. Manure that is acceptable to use on compost pile include: cow, horse, chicken, rabbit, sheep, goat, and bat. Never use dog, cat, pig, or human manure as they can contain harmful parasites which can cause diseases in humans. Also, never use any fresh manure on your garden unless it has been composted first (composting can kill off many of the harmful parasites that could potentially be deadly to humans).

Coffee grounds: (20:1)

  • Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen and help heat up compost. Any kind of coffee grounds are able to be composted, and if you are using a paper filter, that can also be composted (if you are in need of additional coffee grounds, coffee shops may be willing to provide you with additional grounds free of charge).

Lake weed: (19:1)

  • If you have lake weed available in your area, it is an excellent source of nitrogen for compost piles.

Plant cuttings: (20-40:1)

  • Can be an excellent source of nitrogen, as most plant cuttings are close to the ideal 30:1 ratio. Some plant cuttings (weeds) should be avoided if you are using the cool composting method. Temperatures in the cool method are unable to effectively kill weed seeds and potentially dangerous pathogens. ​​