Greens and Browns in Composting

Greens and browns in composting-Finished Compost

It is important to understand about the ratio of greens and browns in composting. Greens have a low carbon to nitrogen ration.  So they are high in nitrogen or protein.  Examples of greens are vegetable scraps from your kitchen, animal manure, green leaves and cut grass.  All “greens” are not actually green with coffee grounds being an example of this.  See finished compost in the picture to the right.

Greens help the bacteria and fungi grow and multiply creating a high temperature in the compost pile. The bacteria and fungi and other micro-organisms are responsible for the decomposition of the plant materials.

Browns have a higher carbon or carbohydrate content.  They decompose at a slower rate and include fallen leaves, sawdust, paper and straw.  Browns also supply food to soil organisms.  In a compost pile browns absorb odors and function to keep the pile from getting too wet.

In order to compost successfully you need to have a combination of greens and browns.  In the summer it is harder to obtain a lot of browns unless you have leaves saved up from the autumn.  See this link for a chart of what you can compost or not.  Also check out the whole website.  It will teach you a lot about composting.

This summer my compost bin was way too wet and smelled rotten.  As I was examining it one day I noticed a lot of white worm like things.  I was really grossed out.  After some internet research I discovered that they were maggots!  Ugh!  And that this can happen if your pile is too wet.

My problem was that I didn’t have enough “browns” or carbon to balance out the mix.  I added more leaves and that really took care of the problem.  The compost dried out a little and the maggots died.  Hurray!  I wouldn’t have wanted to see all the flies that would have come from those maggots!  Now they will just be part of the compost and fertilize my garden.  Has this happened to you?  Next week I will post about a worm composting experience this week that really surprised me!


6 thoughts on “Greens and Browns in Composting

  1. John

    I have had maggot problem and compost too wet, also. I thought they were separate problems. Thanks for the insight.

  2. Daisy

    I was reading this post and realized you might have a solution for an ongoing problem I’m having. Keeping vegetable scraps in my kitchen encourages fruit flies. I feel like I am maintaining fruit-fly hotels, motels, and condos. HELP. Do you or any of your readers have any suggestions?

  3. Sandie Anne

    Hi Daisy,

    Try keeping your vegetable scraps in covered containers in the refrigerator until the fruit flies die out. You could also try hanging fly paper which works very well at capturing them. If you have a back porch you could get a compost keeper to store the scraps in until you put them into the compost bin. If you are worm composting bury the scraps when you add them to the worm bin and that helps with fruit flies. Hope this helps!

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