How To Compost Browns & Greens


Expert composters sharing detailed recipes for specialty compost may make the composting process seem a bit confusing, especially for those of us who are new to the world of organic soil amendments. Thinking of the main compost materials simply as browns and greens, though, helps make the composting process easy to understand. According to Florida's Online Composting Center, "browns" are organic waste materials that are rich in carbon; "greens" provide nitrogen for your compost heap. Keep this general rule in mind as you build and maintain your compost heap, and you'll soon find yourself becoming increasingly familiar with the process of converting organic waste into nutrient-dense humus.

Step 1

Look for organic waste, grouping it into two separate heaps at your composting site. Arrange dry, brown waste in one heap; look for this type of compost waste in the form of carbon-rich materials, such as newspaper, dead leaves, straw, sawdust, cardboard and wood. Place moist, green waste in a second heap; common sources of this nitrogen-rich waste include fresh grass clippings, vegetable peels, old fruit, cow manure and freshly pulled garden weeds.

Step 2

Spread a 4- to 5-inch layer of dry, carbon-rich browns across the bare soil at your well-draining compost site; arrange it in a 4-foot-by-4-foot square. Cover this waste with an equal-size layer of moist, nitrogen-rich greens. Dampen the two layers of organic material with a steady spray of water, moistening them until the waste is about as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

Step 3

Scatter six to eight handfuls of plain topsoil or mature compost across the greens to introduce plenty of extra composting microbes to the organic waste for quicker composting. Sprinkle another layer of browns, followed by another layer of greens; water the waste again. Repeat this layering and moistening process until you've built your compost heap up to a height of 3 to 4 feet with alternating browns and greens.

Step 4

Create a slight depression in the top center of your compost heap with a garden rake to make it easier for rain water to drain down through the center of the heap. Leave the heap to decompose for one to two weeks.

Step 5

Mix the browns and greens in your compost heap together with a garden rake once every two to three weeks for four to six months or until the compost matures. Shift the waste from the center of the heap to the edge; gather the loose waste around the edges of the pile and transfer it the center of the heap. Touch the organic waste with your hand each time you turn the pile to ensure that the compost remains about as damp as a wrung-out sponge, adding extra water to the heap, if necessary.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never put manure from pets or other meat-eating animals in your compost heap; it may contain harmful pathogens that could survive the composting process to infect humans.

Things You'll Need

  • Dry brown organic waste
  • Moist green organic waste
  • Water
  • Plain topsoil/mature compost
  • Garden rake


  • Florida's Online Composting Center: Composting Browns and Greens
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"; Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin; 2008
Keywords: composting browns, how to compost, easy composting

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.