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Composting 101

Composting is not nearly as scary or challenging as you may think! It may be a new habit that takes some getting used to, but I think that a lot of people are intimidated by it and I want to help make it a little less daunting.

Why Composting Is Important

When biodegradable waste like food decomposes in landfills, it produces leachate and methane (a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change that is 84x stronger than CO2).

This is extremely damaging to the surrounding soil, fresh-water systems, and the atmosphere.

Composting, on the other hand, will enrich the soil, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, produce beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter, and reduce methane emissions from landfills (This lowers your carbon footprint IMMENSELY!)

What Goes In It?

  • Greens, Browns, & Water

  • You have to balance out your “greens”, which produce nitrogen and your “browns”, which produce carbon. Water and air flow are also important components of your compost. The reason landfills produce methane is because there is a lack of oxygen, so they decompose anaerobically - which is really, really bad in that kind of environment. The water provides moisture to help break everything down.

  • Examples of “Greens”: Dead leaves, grass clippings, house plants, hay/straw, branches, and twigs

  • Examples of “Browns”: Fruit & vegetable scraps, cardboard, hair & fur, sawdust, wood chips, cotton, wool, dryer & vacuum lint, wood ashes, paper (not glossy...glossy means plastic & plastic is a no-no), egg shells, nut shells, shredded newspaper, and coffee grounds.

What DOESN’T Go In it?

  • Meat, Bones, Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs*

  • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

  • Meat & dairy do not decompose, they putrefy, producing disease-bearing pathogens.

  • Coal or charcoal ash

  • May contain toxic substances harmful to plants

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs

  • Releases the organic compound juglone, which can cause severe damage to plants (when using your compost as fertilizer)

  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides

  • May kill beneficial composting organisms

  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants

  • Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants (again, when using your compost as fertilizer)

  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils*

  • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies

  • Feces

  • May contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, & viruses harmful to humans

Types of Composting: What Will Work Best For You?


  • This is the kind of compost I have! It’s great if you live in an apartment or small space. Mine is just a 13-gallon trash can that has been modified a bit to help filter the materials down as they break down into smaller pieces. In this type of compost, red worms/red wigglers eat what we put in it and create castings (poop), which is a light fertilizer containing microbes that help improve soil structure. Extreme temperatures and direct sunlight are not healthy for the worms (keep in a space that will range between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit).

  • If you are local to Indianapolis, I got my vermicompost from Castaway Compost and would highly recommend working with Keith, he is awesome and knows his stuff!

Compost Pile/Backyard Composting

  • A great spot for this would be under a tree as your compost should have a dry, shady area where it can also still get water from rain or another source.

  • Add brown and green materials, making sure big pieces are chopped up or shredded (Not necessary, but it does speed the process along quite a bit). Water is a requirement, so if it doesn’t rain you will need to add it yourself. Think of it as a garden that won’t die. While your compost will require water, it won’t hurt it if you don’t water it for a while. It will just take a little longer to get useful fertilizer out of it. And that’s a big part of what I love about composting, you can neglect it a bit and work at your own pace. I usually mess around with mine once a week and it usually only takes 5-10 minutes of my time.

  • You can put a tarp on top of your compost to keep moisture in. When it becomes a dark/rich brown color you can use it as fertilizer. This can take anywhere between 2 months and 2 years.


  • A bokashi compost is an air-tight bucket with a spigot at the bottom to drain off “bokashi tea”, which can be used to fertilize house plants.

  • This is a non-toxic version of anaerobic decomposition (AKA no oxygen)

  • Only open the bucket to add scraps, never just to check on your materials. Trust the process, you can’t mess this stuff up! It is recommended to press your food waste in as tight as possible and then adding something flat on top to shield it from exposure to oxygen.

  • Since this is airtight and smells aren’t really an issue (except for when you’re adding scraps), meat and dairy can technically be added to this kind of compost without the worry of pests. I personally wouldn’t recommend adding meat and dairy to compost, but I haven’t tried Bokashi before - so let me know if you have more insight on this!

  • This kind of compost is more acidic than aerobic compost, so just take note of that when fertilizing certain plants.


  • These are for making batches of compost and are good if you have a service coming to pick it up.

  • You accumulate greens, browns, and water and rotate it every few days.

Things To Consider

  • Feedstock & Nutrient Balance

  • Particle Size

  • Moisture Content

  • Oxygen Flow

  • Temperature

Composting Services In Indianapolis

Composting services will come to you to pick up your compost just like trash or recycling. It’s not necessary to have someone come pick it up as I’ve mentioned it can be used as fertilizer, but if you are a large company or are just producing more than you can compost (your bin is overflowing), then this would be great for you! There are a few options to composting locally in Indianapolis right now:

  • Earth Mama Compost - this is what I use and highly recommended, Heather is so great!

  • Green With Indy

Composting In The United States

Celia, Environmental Writer of Litterless, created this awesome guide for anyone trying to compost in the United States:

How Planet-Jordan Can Help

I got started out with composting in the Summer of 2018 when I heard about a composting class at a local co-op (RIP Pogue’s Run Grocer). While I am still new to this process, I’ve learned quite a bit in a little under a year. If you are local to the Indianapolis area and want to know more about composting, I am now hosting composting classes. Message me if you’re interested! They are open to both individuals and group settings.

If I have left anything out that you have questions about, please, contact me! That’s what I’m here for!

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