Yes, You Can Compost Wood Waste

This compost, which has been sifted through a 1/2″ screen mesh, is made from about half leaves and half wood shavings with minimal “green matter” (kitchen waste).  I just dumped the material in the bin and forgot about it, and it took nearly a year and a half for it to rot down completely. Nevertheless, the result is a rich compost with lots of earthworms and nutrients. I used some of it to make potting soil, while the rest will become mulch on my summer gardens.

Compost Finished 4-2013


After a little reading and a lot of experimentation, I have found that there are a few important principles for making good compost, especially from wood waste:

  • A bin that holds at least 27 cubic feet. A smaller bin will still work, but much more slowly.  A bin at least 3’X3’X4′ speeds up the process, and it will yield about 40 gallons of finished compost.
  • Lots of green matter. While it’s theoretically possible to put in too much, very few home kitchens generate that much.  Put in all your banana peels, apple cores, orange peels, and especially eggshells.
  • Keep it moist. As I add the brown matter (leaves and wood waste) I soak the pile down with the hose.  A compost bin in the sun will tend to dry out, whereas one in the shade is less likely to get dry.  Check every so often that the middle of the pile is moist but not soggy.
  • Turn it frequently. I use a big garden fork to loosen up the pile.  Ideally, I would turn a bin 2-3 times a week, but I’m lucky to get to it once a month.  But the more frequently you turn the pile, the quicker it will rot down.

You can get a lot fancier with your methods and materials if you like, but even if you choose to dump it and forget it, you will eventually get your compost.

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7 Responses to Yes, You Can Compost Wood Waste

  1. bobjones2000 says:

    I’m just piling mine up and hoping for the best. 🙂

  2. Jim B says:

    Don’t walnut shavings have an adverse effect on compost, or at least on the plants the compost is ultimately used on?

  3. not all the species can be used, for example the sweet chestnut wood is reach of acid extractives not useful for all the flowers!

  4. The most important thing is balancing carbon in the wood shavings with nitrogen in green waste. I put the bedding from our chicken enclosure in my compost bin when there’s enough room. The wood shavings (high in carbon) is balanced by the chicken poop (very high in nitrogen).
    This page gives a pretty good breakdown of what to use and how much:


  5. Brad Chittim says:

    We have a 3 x 3 x 3 compost bin we got from the big-box store. However, I’d like to build a second bin to store leaves and shavings for use as “feed” to the other bin. Any suggestions on where to find good plans?

    • No need for plans, really. I’ve just used 3′ chicken wire around four steel T-posts. I’ve known people to lash four wooden pallets together. If it’s in a highly visible spot, you might want to build something wooden, in which case you could build it just like any fence, provided that the slats are relatively close together.

  6. In reply to Jim and Alberto above, I have had a hard time finding definitive information on composting certain wood species. The compost pictured above did include a few walnut shavings, but it certainly wasn’t the majority of the “brown matter.” Still, it’s probably best to save the bulk of the walnut shavings for kindling. (Alberto, I only WISH we had chestnut still available here.) I would hesitate to use the shavings and chips from a single species for a whole compost bin.

    In my experience, a diversity of materials is usually best.

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