How to Add Nitrogen to Compost

Four Methods:Kitchen leftoversManureGarden wasteUnusual sources

Composting is the process of aiding the decomposition of organic materials such as food scraps and yard waste. Insects, fungi, and bacteria work together to break down the material and turn it into rich, black humus - a beneficial soil conditioner. Providing the ideal environment for decomposition is largely a matter of getting your compost pile's carbon to nitrogen ratio right. If decomposition is proceeding too slowly, you may need to add nitrogen to the compost. The guide below will provide some tips for increasing your compost pile's nitrogen content.

Method 1
Kitchen leftovers

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    Add used coffee grounds to your compost. Coffee grounds are about 2 percent nitrogen by volume, which makes them an excellent source of nitrogen for your compost pile. If you brew your coffee using a paper filter, both the filter and grounds can be thrown as-is into your compost pile.
    • If you need more grounds than you can produce yourself, ask your neighbors to begin saving their spent coffee grounds for you. You can also try arranging a plan to pick up coffee grounds from a local coffee shop.
    • Note that coffee grounds should only be added to your compost after they have been used to brew coffee. Before brewing, the grounds are very acidic and may lower the pH of your soil past a desirable level.
    • If your garden soil needs a quick nitrogen boost, you can also mix the spent coffee grounds directly into your soil. The grounds can also be added to potting mix for indoor plants.

Method 2

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    Mix some nitrogen-rich manure into your compost. Perhaps the best-known composting additive for boosting nitrogen is manure, or animal droppings. This is an especially useful method if you raise animals on your land or have a nearby neighbor who does.
    • Only manure from herbivores should be added to compost. These animals produce manure with a very low pathogen content, and their droppings can be mixed directly into a compost pile. Waste from dogs, cats, and other omnivores should be disposed of in the garbage, as it can contain dangerous pathogens like E. coli.
    • An exception to the above rule is horse manure. Horses' stomachs aren't efficient enough to break down or sterilize seeds from various weeds and wildflowers. Adding horse manure to a compost pile can allow these weeds to thrive in your compost and in the soil to which it is added later.

Method 3
Garden waste

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    Grow some "green manure" plants to boost your compost pile's nitrogen content. Green manure is the product of cover cropping, and can be a useful strategy if you maintain a large vegetable garden (especially an organic one). Rotating cover crops like alfalfa, legumes, and clover with your usual vegetables will help maintain the soil's health.
    • Green manure plants are typically plowed directly into the soil before they go to seed, which will increase the nitrogen content of the soil. However, you can harvest these plants while still green and add them directly to your compost pile.
    • Legumes are ideal for this method, as they will fix nitrogen into the garden soil while growing, as well as introducing nitrogen into your compost pile.
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    Add fresh grass clippings into your compost. If you have a lawn, you can get a quick boost of nitrogen by saving the grass clippings and adding them to your compost pile. This is another method in which you can ask your neighbors to save their clippings for you as well.

Method 4
Unusual sources

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    Have a hair trim. Human hair has an NPK ratio of 14/0/0, which is extremely high. You can cut your own hair (or a friend's, if they'll let you) and save it for your soil. Mixing it into some of your compost with a powerful blender will make it break down more quickly and become utilizable by your plants. Add to your soil as you would your compost.
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    Pee on your compost. Urine is a quicker way to give your plants a nitrogen boost. However, only use it diluted with 5 to 10 parts water. Only use fresh, as the nitrogen will break down into ammonia within 24 hours, which is the opposite of good for your plants.


  • When attempting to maintaining healthy nitrogen levels in your garden soil, you should also rely on techniques such as crop rotation, cover cropping, and growing legumes that will fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil.
  • The best way to recognize when your compost pile has too much nitrogen in relation to carbon is by the emission of an ammonia-like odor. In this case, add more carbon-rich materials like dried leaves and paper to your pile.

Things You'll Need

  • Coffee grounds
  • Manure
  • Green manure
  • Grass clippings

Article Info

Categories: Gardening