How to Find Free Compost Ingredients

Why buy expensive treatments or toxic fertilizers to ensure rich soil and a fertile garden when you can get the same benefits from compost? Before you go to the local nursery or garden supply store and pay a premium for composting ingredients, consider making compost on your own at home. In fact, you don’t even have to make great compost—you can find the ingredients for free with a couple of phone calls and a little research. This article serves more as a “how to“ on finding free composting materials than a “how to“ on making compost. The steps below will list possible ways to connect with free compost. By going through the list you are certain to find something that will amend your soil and help your plants flourish!


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    Ask your local coffee shop if they throw out used coffee grinds. Coffee grinds are an excellent acidic amendment to soil, so use ash or lime to balance the pH.
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    Inquire with local lumberyards and home improvement stores for free sawdust. Be sure to use sawdust only from untreated wood.
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    Collect newspapers. Separate the newspaper from the glossy inserts, and shred the paper to make it compost more quickly.
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    Contact local dairies, feedlots, or cattle operations for composted cow manure. The ideal manure has been composting for at least 2 years.
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    Call a local food processing plant to inquire if they have any left over organic material.
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    Visit your local zoo and ask about retrieving compost from the exhibit animals. Make sure that it is only from herbivorous creatures as the carnivorous droppings often contain parasites harmful to your health.
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    Place cardboard over a bed of worms to create worm castings and heavily nutritious composting materials.
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    Visit Christmas tree lots for mulched trees; many cities and communities recycle Christmas trees, so mulch might be available from this seasonal source.
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    Contact your city government. A few cities such as San Francisco are now offering free compost starter kits.
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    Be neighborly. Your neighbors are bound to have a lot of potential compost. Talk to them about composting, and ask if they will save their scrap vegetables and the like for you or if you can collect their yard waste. Many municipalities now offer regular yard waste pickup; if your neighbors use this, you can simply ask them to let you collect the yard waste from their bins.
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    Wood Ash is also an excellent soil amendment. Some people have fire pits in their yards, or bring a 5 gallon (18.9 L) bucket with you when you go camping, and add the cold wood ash to the mix. Just make sure you are only burning untreated wood or paper in your fire. Wood ashes are highly alkaline (high pH) so should be added in small quantities.
    • Sea and lake vegetation is remarkably nutrient rich and makes a great addition to your compost, but it is also unsustainable as the tidelands and shores need those nutrients for their own ecosystems. If you live near the ocean, you can probably collect plenty of seaweed. Check your bylaws to make sure seaweed collection is legal in your area.
    • Whenever you build compost, try to make sure that you are not removing ingredients from a setting where they would be composted- the forest, the shore, parks, etc. The point is to bring nutrients back into the life cycle that were destined for the landfill. By taking organic matter from a place that would benefit from the compost it makes you would be perpetrating the destruction of ecosystems.


  • Compost tea, a combination of water and manure allowed to sit and “steep,“ is an excellent fertilizer. Use compost tea on plants when they are young to ensure quick growth and safe eating.
  • Avoid composting manure from carnivorous animals such as dogs and cats. Parasites and harmful bacteria may be present in such material.
  • Good compost is no accident. You need to have a good balance of nitrogen and carbon, and this requires the right mix of ingredients. Check the external links and the related wikiHows for more information.
  • Compost is just a fancy way of saying broken down organic matter. Composting materials can come from nearly any plant or animal.


  • If you do want to use Christmas trees, be aware that pine trees and needles are acidic, and adding acidic compost to plants that don't like acid will most likely harm or kill them. Only use pine trees for compost you want to add to acid-lovers (azalea, blueberries, gardenias, hibiscus, citrus, ixora). You can add lime to the mix to help offset the acidity.*If you live in the deep south, forgo the ashes entirely, as your soil is likely alkaline. Garden centres have cheap PH test kits that aren't accurate, but you can go to your local lab to get it accurately tested for around $15. If you're not sure where to find a place that does that, ask your local horticulture association or at the farmer's market.
  • Do not use lawn clippings from a lawn to which pesticides or herbicides were recently applied.
  • If you’re collecting yard waste or kitchen scraps from neighbors or local businesses, expect to sort out a lot of non-compostable material, and be prepared to properly dispose of it. While households can be a fruitful source of compost ingredients, people can be very careless about properly separating trash from compost (the same is true, of course, for recycling). You’ll get a taste of what waste management workers go through every day.
  • Be sure that your source is not contaminated with chemicals, especially if you plan to use the resulting compost in a vegetable or an organic garden.
  • Most manure needs to reach sustained temperatures of above 180 °F (82 °C) to fully compost. Due to the danger of E. coli and other harmful organisms, avoid using fresh manure on food crops.

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Categories: Compost Mulch and Soil Preparation