Reader Questions: Brown Materials And Vermicomposting

Below is a question from one of our readers. We thought others might want to see the info we gathered, so we’re turning the comment into it’s very own post.

From Teri:

I’m wondering if you two have done any research on easy, I mean EASY, ways to compost all those green kitchen scraps w/o having to haul in the brown organic material. Obviously doesn’t make sense to burn fuel (gas) and $$ to haul sawdust or pine needles into the city. Someone suggested using straw, but I’m concerned about introducing weed seeds into my garden (in addition to the gas/$$ issue).

Anyone working w/red worms? I saw someone re-using old refrigerators as a worm box at the local Sustainable Living Fair, but don’t know much about this either.

Your urbavore insight would be much appreciated.

From the Urbavore:

Regarding your question about brown and green materials. From the research, I’ve done the “ideal” mix of materials in your compost bin is 50/50 brown and green (or nitrogen and carbon producing) materials by weight. HOWEVER! There are many other variables at work (mainly temperature and moisture) AND composting is just relying on nature to do what she planned to; let dead things rot. If your mixture isn’t 100% right by the book, THAT’S OKAY!!! It may take a little longer to decompose, but it will get there!

If you’re running short on brown materials, yes, you can use paper or cardboard. Also leaves, dried weeds, coffee grounds, and even dog food can be used for brown material, in addition to the well-known manure and straw/hay options.

Still have questions about what might be compostable or what’s green vs brown material? There is a great list at This site is also great for other in-depth composting instructions and questions. What I love about their site is that they have much of the same mentality that the Urbavore does: you can do it! It’s not a science so it’s hard to screw up!

Regarding composting with worms (vermicomposting), composting relies on microbes and bacteria to do the “breaking down” work. Vermicomposting uses worms to help with the process and CAN be faster than straw/hay composting. BUT if you’re composting at 100% capacity and all variables are right, both methods are going to take 2-3 months. However, worms take a little more work, and I’m going to be honest, I think they’re a little gross, so I haven’t done a ton of research in this direction. I have found 2 good sites (and there are many more) if you’d like to look into more: good history and tons of info about vermicomposting the basics of composting with worms

I hope this helps with your composting endeavors and please let us know if there is ANYTHING else we can do to help!!


Teri also posted a Part 2 of this question:

OK … me again … Just learned that the “brown” composting element can be shredded cardboard or paper …. Have plenty of that around the house to recycle. Here’s my next question: How do I know what’s safe to use around food plants (fruits, vegetables, herbs) in my garden. I don’t want to integrate paper in my compost that may have toxic ink or other chemical treatments that could be unhealthy!

Thanks for your consideration. I’ll look forward to your reply!!

From the Urbavore:

I would love to take credit for answering this question, but it appears someone else already has and in much more depth than I can.

Check out the following question with responses:

Should you not want to leave theUrbavore site (and I would totally understand that), the long and the short of it goes like this: Paper products in this country are super regulated to not be toxic (along with tapes, inks, etc). For the most part, if you want to throw most paper and cardboard in your compost bin- go for it! I would shred most of the paper things you compost (especially shiny papers as they’re made to last longer). Newspaper and corrugated cardboard would be preferred, but printer paper, receipts, ice cream containers, Starbucks coffee cups, etc are all going to add carbon to your compost bin. If there are plastic liners on any of the items you put in, the cardboard will compost and you can pull the plastic out later.
You probably want to avoid composting paper products that are neon or fluorescent colored or that have metallic ink. These could be toxic.

About the Author

Leave a Comment:

Leave a Comment: