Question: I have a new compost bin for composting vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. I also have a lot of dead plants in pots that were killed by the frost. Can I use these in the compost bin?
Unless they succumbed to some kind of disease, frost-killed potted plants, along with other end-of-the-season garden debris, are a good addition to compost, so toss them in and don’t worry about it. In fact, they add a much-needed source of “brown” to the nitrogen-rich “green” kitchen scraps, a mixture that’s necessary to produce good compost. Here’s a quick lesson to get your started, adapted from “The Dirt on Composting,” a booklet produced by the Metro Nashville, Tenn. Public Works Department:
The best compost is made with a ratio of nitrogen-rich “green” material such as fruit and vegetable scraps, fresh grass clippings, green yard waste and so forth, and carbon-rich “brown” materials such as dry leaves (and dead, dried plants), straw, soil, woody material and even newspaper and paper towel tubes. A good carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is 30:1, but the most important thing to remember is that you need some of each.
A well-working compost pile will heat up to about 130 – 150 degrees F. (you can buy a compost thermometer that allows you to check the temperature). This is considered a “hot” compost. But even if your compost recipe is not that precise – you just chuck in kitchen scraps whenever you have them, and add dry material whenever you can – you’ll still end up with rich organic material from a “cold” pile, which turns into compost more slowly. An advantage of a “hot” compost pile is that it is more likely to kill mature seeds of weeds and other plants that you put in there; with a “cold” pile, after you spread or dig the compost into your garden beds, you are likely to find sprouts of plants with mature seeds that you tossed into the bin in past seasons.
The booklet provided by Metro Nashville’s Public Works Department with simple guidelines to composting food and yard waste can be found here. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has a page on composting with even simpler guidelines that you can see here.