The Ideal Compost Greens to Browns Ratio

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If you have decided to start up a compost pile to reduce waste and create a great fertilizer, good for you.

This is an excellent way to keep scraps out of the landfills and reuse them for something purposeful.

The most important thing to know about creating your pile is the composting green and brown ratio.

The perfect green to brown ratio for compositing will differ a bit depending on who you ask. However, a good rule of thumb to follow is 3:1 brown to green; three parts brown materials to one part green. 

Creating a working compost pile doesn’t have to be complicated, nor does it have to involve a crazy amount of math. It just takes the right information, education, and a little hard work.

What is the Best Greens and Browns Ratio?

It is important to have the right balance of high nitrogen components (greens) to high carbon components (browns) when constructing a compost pile.

Because greens are higher in nitrogen and browns are lower, deciding how to even them out is a big part of compositing  

The best ratio for these two products is 3:1—three parts browns to one part greens.


Key Takeaway: Good balance is crucial to making a successful compost that isn’t too soggy, slimy, or smelly.


What Are Browns and Greens?

Both browns and greens are essential for great compost. 

Other important factors include air, water, and temperature, and having the right amount of all these elements will create the perfect conditions needed to develop the best mix.

Browns 

As mentioned, browns are higher in carbon and lower in nitrogen. 

These carbon-rich items play a critical role in your compost pile, and they are a food source for the microorganisms that break down the compost and create air pockets to allow oxygen to flow through the pile.

Types of browns you can use in compost
Browns compost

Browns are literally, brown materials that are naturally brown or will eventually turn brown after being added to the pile. 

Types of brown you can use in your compost:

  • Dry leaves
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Corn stalks
  • Twigs
  • Chipped tree branches
  • Bark
  • Cotton fabric
  • Straw 
  • Hay
  • Paper Products
  • Dryer lint
  • Cardboard (without wax or any other substance attached)

Greens

Greens are the exact opposite of browns; these products are higher in nitrogen and lower in carbon.

The nitrogen to carbon ratio in greens is 30:1 (roughly), making them extremely high in nitrogen. 

Greens are the items that will cause the compost to heat up because they activate and help the microorganisms in a pile grown at a quicker rate.

Greens are usually green, but this is not always the case.

Types of greens in compost
Greens compost

Most of the greens you will end up adding to your compost will be freshly cut grass, plants, food scraps, animal manure (not green in color, but green for composting).

Types of greens you can use in your compost:

  • Food scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Weeds
  • Manure
  • Grass clippings
  • Seaweed
  • Vegetable and fruit peels
  • Melon rines
  • Tea leaves and tea bags

Other Important Factors for Composting

As mentioned above, there are other factors required in order to create the perfect compost pile.

These additional components include air, water, and heat.

Air for Compost

Air is one of the most essential ingredients to a well-tuned compost cycle.

Fresh air is impostant for compost
Fresh air compost

In order for the bacteria to break down the green and brown items in your bin, they need air to thrive.

Having access to fresh air, especially getting it into the middle of the pile, will help heat up the soil, decomposing the materials quickly.

If your compost pile gets overly soggy or compacted, the air supply is cut off from these organisms, slowing them down and causing the process to come to a complete halt.


Quick Tip: You will quickly notice when this happens because the stench will be hard to bear.


Water for Compost

The right amount of water is another important part of the composting process.

Water is necessary for keeping the temperature of the compost pile consistent and regulated, helping the decomposition move along in a good manner. 

Having too much water or too little can be detrimental to your pile.

Temperature for Compost

Having the right temperature in a compost pile (130°F-160°F) is required for the proper breakdown of the browns and greens in your bin.

If your temperature is too low, the pathogenic organisms and weed seeds will stay alive in your compost, which is something you DO NOT WANT happening. 

However, if the temperature is too high, it could negatively affect the activity of micro-organic materials.

How to Layer Browns and Greens in a Compost Pile

There are different ways to compile compost, and it will look different depending on who is putting it together.

How to Layer Browns and Greens in a Compost Pile
Compost pile

However, the ideal compost should be added in layers for the best reactions and results.

The best way to do this is by sticking with the 3:1 brown to green ratio:

  • Place 3-inches of brown materials at the bottom of your compost; sticks, twigs, and dried leaves are best for the beginning layer.
  • Next, add a 1-inch layer of green materials on top of that
  • Then, add a thin layer of soil on top of the greens
  • Repete

Mix Your Compost Pile Frequently

Depending on the size of your compost or the amounts of browns and greens in it, you should usually turn your compost pile every four days. 

Turning your compost is important to keep the temperature even and keep the microorganisms happy so they will keep doing their jobs.

If you notice your pile is starting to smell or there is a lot of bug activity, you may have to increase the number of times you mix up your pile.

What Happens if Green to Brown Ratios are Off?

If your brown and green compost materials are off, your compost pile may not heat up as it should, will get mucky and overly moist, and will start to smell very bad.

Decomposition will slow down, and the whole cycle will come to a screeching halt.

What to Never Compost

Whether it is brown or green, there are some items that should never be added to your compost piles:

What not to compost
Don’t compost list
  • Animal manure if you are planning to use fertilizer for growing food
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Fish
  • Black walnut products
  • Diseased plants
  • Any plants of foods that may have pesticides on them

All of these items can be bad for your compost and for your health.

Why Compost?

Now that we know how to successfully make a compost pile, here are a few good reasons why you should.

Reducing Waste in Landfills

Landfills are quickly filling up with waste and biodegradable materials that can easily be turned into compost if done properly.

This will save space and make more room for other garbage, reducing more landfills developing. (not to mention the methane gas build-up from waste that cannot decompose properly)

Good for the Environment

When you make your own fertilizer out of natural materials, there are fewer needs for chemical fertilizers for farmers and gardeners alike.

Good for Soil, Grass, and Plants

Compost places nutrients into your soil, keeping plants and grass healthy and helps to prevent plant disease.

Summing Things Up

Both brown and green materials are essential for creating an excellent compost pile.

Having either of these components off can turn your usable fertilizer into a stinky pile of mush.

Understanding what good compost looks like is key to keeping it active and healthy.

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