This is step 2 in our Start Apartment Composting series. If you’re just checking in, see the first post. For everyone else, this how-to provides the nitty-gritty details of what you actually DO to compost!

You have your compost pile container from Step 1. What now?

It’s all about the Green and the Brown. Green and Brown materials are the two categories of what you put into your container - these are the materials that will break down, leaving you with that wonderful compost!

Every day as you go about your life, cooking, cleaning, and otherwise living, you’ll run into these materials that you don’t need. They’ll either fit into the “brown” or the “green” materials category. Following the guidelines below, you’ll throw them in the container, and watch your scraps compost themselves! Here’s how.

First, here are the basic rules you’ll follow in composting:
* Shred material before adding in to the pile. I try to get thick materials to the size of my thumb and flat materials (paper) postage-stamp sized.
* Keep the pile moist by adding water when it seems dry.
* The bottom and top layers should be brown materials (to keep it from stinking).
* There should be an approximately 50/50% ratio of green to brown material.
* Let it breathe (don’t fill it up to the lid).
* Don’t put anything in it you don’t want in the end (i.e., don’t throw weeds that have seeds in there if you don’t want ‘em in your houseplants you’ll later add compost to)

Brown materials:
* dead leaves * pine needles * straw * sawdust (from untreated wood) * wood chips * dirt * newspaper * twigs * tree bark * cardboard & toilet paper rolls * hair * fur * dryer lint (assuming it’s not chemical-ridden) * cotton cloth (old rags, socks)

Green materials:
* grass * fruit scraps * veggie scraps * eggshells * coffee grounds * tea leaves * tea bags * nut shells * trimmings from most trees and plants

(i.e. DON’T add these - some won’t compost, some attract rats, some negatively affect your finished product i.e. plants you add compost to)
* meat * bones * fat * oil * grease * black walnut leaves or twigs * chemicals like pesticides * dairy products * human or pet waste * flour * food sauces * ashes * charcoal * nonorganics (like plastic) * diseased or mildewed plants * weeds

It’s an art, not a science.

While that’s probably technically inaccurate, my point is that you’re making a composting pile to add to what you do in your home, not to suck the life out of it. Don’t stress. You’ll learn what you can tinker with and what you shouldn’t. You can’t get that corn cob any smaller? Shrug and throw it in there whole. It’ll compost eventually. No time to shred up some old toilet paper rolls after throwing in a bunch of fruit peels? Worry about it later. Has your pile been dried out for a week? Water it, and move on. Enjoy composting; don’t be enslaved to it.

...and you?

How does it sound? Manageable? Complicated? Don’t worry about keeping up with the brown/green/no lists - they’re all in my all-inclusive Composting Guide - you can print it and hang near your pile.

Comment with your thoughts on the feasibility of implementing a compost pile into your home life - questions are welcome, too!

Composting photos (with a link to this post in the photo description or as a comment) are welcome at our flickr group, and photos with Creative Commons licensing may be featured in future composting articles! I’ll thank you with a link to any website you have which you’d like to promote.