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Where do you get "browns" for your compost? πŸ‘©β€πŸ’» β€” The Grow Network Community
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Where do you get "browns" for your compost? πŸ‘©β€πŸ’»

Marjory WildcraftMarjory Wildcraft ✭✭✭Posts: 1,045 admin

I know it's bizzarre, but I often have a hard time finding "browns" for my compost pile.... You know how bad a compost pile can smell when it gets too much greens?

I got one of these Aerobin 400 insulated composters about a year and a half ago? I really, really like it. But my bad, I really should have known better.

First off, my friend Andrew Cook got it for me - Andrew imports very high quality gardening equipment into the US. And apparently the Europeans are way ahead of Americans on quality. I agreed with Andrew that the American love of tumblers was really a shame, as they just weren't that easy to use or practical. Andrew showed me this Aerobin and told me that is was way more effective with no moving parts. The center column is designed to make airflow happen without the need for compost turning.

Oh yeah... I wanted one.

So I set it up at the farm house in Colorado. And I've got tons of family, friends, visitors, etc. all coming through and tons and tons of "greens" but not a lot of browns. Kind of desparate for some browns to mix in there. I had some wood chips and even though I should know better (no, they don't really break down easily) I used them.

Combine that and the fact this climate is so so dry (which I underestimated) this just didn't work out that well. Definitely have to move the composter closer to the garden hose...

So where do you get "browns"?

The magical column that means you don't have to 'turn' the copost.


  • ines871ines871 zn8APosts: 1,290 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Hi @Marjory Wildcraft re " tons of 'greens' but not a lot of browns. Kind of desparate for some browns to mix in there. I had some wood chips and even though I should know better (no, they don't really break down easily), I used them. This climate is so so dry (which I underestimated), this just didn't work out that well. -- Definitely have to move the composter closer to the garden hose... So where do you get "browns"? "

    Well, based on years experience with using woodships, just giving you my observations: First what you want is "Ramial Chipped Wood (RCW)" benefits: it meets most criteria for a great mulch, & robust soil:

    • Effective weed block
    • Air and rain pass through to the soil
    • Retains soil moisture
    • Good ground cover
    • Builds new dark rich soil
    • Usually free

    RCW contains most of the nutrients needed by your garden, only lacking some Trace minerals you can Add.

    Hardwoods, aka deciduous trees generally make excellent Ramial Chipped Wood.Β As this RCW is broken down, it produces an elaborate & stable soil structure with a rich diversity of microfauna & microflora. Fungus feed on its lignins, producing long-lived humus, that gives great Structure to the soil.

    Although animal manures, composts also create humus, it is a short-lived humus that will disappear in like less than 4 years. Long-lived humus may be present for many many! generations. Among the hardwoods: yellow birch, sugar maple, oak, linden, beech, & ash make the highest quality soils. A mixture of these woods produce the best results.

    CAUTION: Cedar, Cyprus, redwood, eucalyptus, sequoia and black walnut wood chips may prevent certain plants from germinating. Bamboo is also a poor choice, as it may sprout, establish itself, and be quite difficult to get rid of. --- Up to only 20% of RCW can come from conifer trees. As conifer lignins break down in the soil, they produce lotsa polyphenolics, which hinder other plants from growing. - Notice in a forest: under a pine tree, little grows, Why? Their goal is to slow competition. Conifer soils also contain fewer varieties of microbes, the opposite of what you want in your garden.

    Now from what you say: you have this TINY amount, so even tho it's artificially sorta heated inside that bin, that is not nearly the same as what happens Naturally... the Bigger the amount of wood chips is. -

    I don't have a handy photo of for example our latest about 10 cu.yards (about 10 feet long, 8 ft.wide & 5 feet high) pile of woodchips delivered Free early this Spring, but even at low temps outside that pile had STEAM rising out the top for quite awhile, so yes the greater the pile, the faster it can Decompose & give you what you want. - Now that particular pile has much bigger pieces than what we usually ask for. Hey that's great, as those bigger (up to 10 inch) wood pieces make a wonderful comforter for plants overwintering outside. It's all good.

    In a tiny pile particularly, the Carbon will only break down when/where it can get Nitrogen, iow just the surface of the old soil and what you put on top. -- As the biology builds up, it will convert the carbon faster. So mulch will last a long time on dead ground (aka 'dirt'), but disappear quickly on healthy soil. Adding nitrogen is part of speeding it up, but so is my all time Favorite = compost TEA πŸ™‚, & biology.

    Tree service companies and local utility companies are always looking for places to dump their wood chips.

    Hopeful you find this info helpful πŸ™‚

  • Karyn PenningtonKaryn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭

    Many online shippers are switching to brown paper for packaging as opposed to plastic bubbles. I keep a shredder near the garage and shred that brown packing paper, toilet tube rolls and other thinner cardboard that's not got too much printing. Occasionally we'll get a newsprint paper in the mailbox and I'll shred that as well.

    In the fall, I literally pick up the neighbors' bags of leaves, ESPECIALLY if they're shredded with a little grass. I save these over winter to add to the compost in the spring. (Roll the bag down to keep them dry.)

    We use a mulching blade on the lawn mower and if you can manage the look, I let the cut grass dry over the lawn -- once it's dry, it changes from green to brown -- same with spent coffee grounds. If you dry them out they're brown instead of green. I'm always picking up dead sticks from the trees. I snap those into as small of pieces as I can manage -- they're brown and also help aerate the pile.

    Finally, when I have too much green at one time I either freeze or bury it. I freeze it if I want to save a whole bunch to dig a pit or trench. Or, if the ground is cooperative and I have the energy, I'll just dig a hole and bury it on the spot.

  • FoodgardenguyFoodgardenguy CanadaPosts: 106 ✭✭✭

    Hi @Marjory Wildcraft,

    That's interesting. I wish we had more free greens around here. We've scraped up all the kitchen scraps, grass clippings, green leaves and weeds around here. We don't have any farm animals, so if we want additional sources of nitrogen, we either have to go get some or buy nitrogen sources like blood meal, fish emulsion and alfalfa.

    We've been getting a lot of our browns from woodchips. We've noticed that depending on the source, some woodchips are smaller than others. It depends on the wood chipper machine. Smaller woodchips are obviously better. We also have been using shredded paper from our office shredder, but have had to make sure that it is properly mixed with other organic matter, as it can form a flat mat like wet leaves and quickly make things anaerobic.

    I also learned that you can make greens more brown by leaving them out to dry and the green in them disappears.

    @rainbow, I had no idea about the 20% rule for conifers. That would probably explain why some of our bushes are having issues.

  • Karyn PenningtonKaryn Pennington Posts: 71 ✭✭✭

    @Foodgardenguy if your not on medication, your urine is an excellent FREE source of nitrogen for a compost pile. Personally, I wouldn't spend money on nitrogen sources specifically for a compost pile. I use fish emulsion, but not on a pile. Like Marjory, I'm more likely to need browns than greens but I don't get too scientific about what or when I throw into the pile (within reason, of course). It'll all break down eventually. My biggest concern is to not attract critters. To minimize that, I put the more food-type sources in my spin-bin and let it partially decompose. Then I throw it in with the on-ground pile with other things (yard waste, weeds) when it no long resembles it's original food. I also blend/process most of the stuff that goes in my spin bin because that's typically the left-overs for the worm bin. They get pureed food and the more it's chopped up the quicker it decomposes (with our without worms).

    I love composting almost as much as gardening and sometimes, I think I spend more time/effort composting than gardening. Maybe it's because good compost makes my gardening so much easier.🍌πŸ₯•πŸŒΎ

  • Marjory WildcraftMarjory Wildcraft ✭✭✭ Posts: 1,045 admin

    Hi @Foodgardenguy @rainbow and @Karyn Pennington I thinkt he wood chips will break down eventually, but they just don't seem to work int hat small of a composting situation - or perhaps it needs a LOT more water.

    I absolutely LOVE the idea of a paper shredder. That would be so helpful in another project of mine - to reduce my entire waste streeam to almost nothging. I do get lots of 'junk mail', magazines, etc.

    Hey, does anyone know about the status of colored inks these days? In previous years the wisdom was that they were soy based and OK to compost (no heavy metals or weirdness). And the gloss on glossy magazines were clay based (how that is I don't know).

    Is that still true today? Is it OK to compost colored paper, glossy magazines, etc? Hah, I should make that it's own thread...

  • FoodgardenguyFoodgardenguy CanadaPosts: 106 ✭✭✭

    @Karyn Pennington wrote: "@FoodgardenguyΒ if your not on medication, your urine is an excellent FREE source of nitrogen for a compost pile"

    Yes, you are quite right about that one - 1:1 Nitrogen to carbon ratio, I read. However, my wife is currently my medication at the moment.😍, among other things...and our 3 children makes the medication stronger if they hear about it.

    For now, I have no problems with urine and poop from other lifeforms, or shall I say...I don't get medicated for that one.πŸ˜…

    @Marjory Wildcraft

    There is one thing I forgot to mention about woodchips. We noticed that fresh woodchips (along with all sorts of green shredded leaves with it) gets VERY hot in a pile. By the end of 4 months, I saw lots of small organic matter already in the pile along with the larger chips. Reasoning that woodchips contains a carbon to nitrogen ration of 200-500 to 1, you can continue to add nitrogen sources to the pile, including all your extra greens. If we can get horse, cow or chicken manure, we have added them to the pile. We leave it open to the rain and air.

    Also another good source of browns are dry tree leaves and corn stalks. Cardboard (the plain ones without paint and glues) is another source, but you really have to cut or shred them into smaller pieces. Worms really like cardboard. Apparently, you can get cardboard shredders as well, but we find the price a bit hefty.

    We prefer to leave all glossy/painted papers and glues out, although now I'm now hearing from soil biologist like Dr. Elaine Ingham that soil biology can heal and convert polluted, unhealthy soils laden with harmful chemicals and poisonsides into fertile land.

  • chimboodle04chimboodle04 Posts: 286 ✭✭✭

    We live in the suburbs, so browns are sometime hard to come by here as well. On thing we have done is make an extra large bin just for browns so when they are around in abundance (fall leaves and cleanup debris), we can stockpile them for use in leaner carbon months. Sometimes these still do not last, so we started making our own by drying out our grass clippings on the driveway. This seems to work well since the compost still appears to decompose just as fast, and we have not noticed any smell like you will get using too much greens.

  • ines871ines871 zn8APosts: 1,290 ✭✭✭✭✭
    edited September 2019

    @Foodgardenguy - obviously anybody can do whatever they want, but here we do Not use shiny/glossy paper, glues, nor (gmo) corn stalks & cardboard.

    Are you aware that the very AIR, & water as it evaporates & then falls as Rain contains Intentionally

    seeded & sheeted Nano-particulates of aluminum & glyphosate & mercury & other crap to SHIELD out the sun, & obviously this situation is GLOBAL. So while citizens can do nothing! about that Air poisoning... the past decade, - Now you are adding (gmo) corn stalks & cardboard, over which you do have control. So the plants are poisoned from above, & now below, while people wonder "Why does my food have holes ?" & 100+ more problems.

    And as far as 'experts' ? - while the Earth can "heal" - which simply means growing Anew, why stress Nature including soil even more ??

    As I repeat... in every Soil-class I teach: You want healthy food?, then empower & enable your soil to be healthy...

  • FoodgardenguyFoodgardenguy CanadaPosts: 106 ✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft I reread your initial post again. I'm interested to know more about the "magical column" you have in your compost bin. Is it a separate apparatus you can get, or is it part of your compost bin?

  • seeker.nancy - Central Texasseeker.nancy - Central Texas Posts: 793 ✭✭✭✭

    I use dry coffee grounds and also the unbleached filters and dry leaves. My kids bagged some for me a couple of years ago (all liveoak) but I'm almost out. I think my next door neighbor with oak and pecan trees won't mind if I rake some lol.

  • HassenaHassena Posts: 303 ✭✭✭

    We have animals, so our browns are their bedding materials. Pine shavings and straw. Plus hay that they don't eat. I would think leaves would be a good source of carbon, however they may not be available year round. We also sweep the floors and add that to the compost bin, dryer lint, if you have a dryer. We use cardboard too. There are risk. I'm hoping through the composting process and aging it will inert an nasties.

    Wood ash may help with the aroma. Also a couple of scoops of soil may help to cover those greens.

    Best of luck. :)

  • probinson50probinson50 Posts: 49 ✭✭✭

    We have plenty of leaves from our forest and shredded paper from our office for composting

  • DeviDevi Canada Posts: 18 ✭✭✭

    I use brown paper bags, but last year I didn't have enough and the tumble composter was a disaster :( I don't have many trees in my area for leaves, so I'll have to start using the "junk mail" like was suggested here.

  • TiffanyMilnerTiffanyMilner Posts: 13 ✭✭✭

    Browns are everywhere here. I don’t have a fancy composter, but my husband has made huge piles of forest debris with our excavator. After one year without being touched the pile became beautiful compost. All I have to do when I want to plant something is throw the random branch back into the pile and keep filling my pots.

  • VermontCathyVermontCathy Posts: 464 ✭✭✭

    For our large compost pile, I use the raked leaves from our yard as my browns. They would compost faster if I chopped them first, but we don't have a leaf chopper. Someday I may try running the lawn mower over a pile of leaves and see if that helps.

    We use both a rotary composter and a simple compost pile on the ground. The rotary composter is significantly faster, probably partly because we put more greens in it (I don't recommend leaves in a rotary!) and because we rotate it every time we add to it. The simple pile takes much longer, pretty much a whole season, but we only turn it once at the end of the season so it's very low-maintenance. Large inputs like melon rind take too long to break down in the rotary, so we only put those in the pile.

    I've found that a mix of lawn clippings from the mower (green), leaves raked from the yard (brown), and kitchen scraps (mostly green) works well enough in the simple pile.

    Almost anything will compost if it's kept damp or wet and you wait long enough. Yes, you need to use the hose on the pile if you have an extended dry period, especially in a dry climate.

  • ParadoxParadox Posts: 145 ✭✭✭

    We've been using woodchips mostly--the area where we are recently had to start taking down all the ash trees due to emerald ash borer. We've also used straw purchased from local grain growers in the past. We layer the woodchips no more than about 2" alternating with the greens (also about 2"). I think Joel Salatin had some ideas in some of his books--peanut hulls and such--depending on your area.

  • ParadoxParadox Posts: 145 ✭✭✭

    Oh, check out the rodale books, too..

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