From Compost to Compost



I've always taken a very relaxed approach to composting. If it's organic and it's not something the chickens find delectable, it goes in the pile.

Ten years ago, a friend gave me a copy of Joan Dye Gussow's lovely garden memoir This Organic LIfe.  Gussow is a longtime professor of nutrition at Columbia and a heroine to the sustainable food movement.  I admired many things about the book, mainly her love of good food and desire to be self-sufficient in her garden…but what delighted me most was her admission that she should have put a dead rat into the compost and not the garbage.

Seriously, isn't unsqueamish thriftiness what sustainability is all about?



Personally, I have composted neither rats nor relatives.  But I have composted an oriental rug that my puppy peed on one too many times to be salvageable qua rug.

I was very pleased to remove the composter a few days ago and find…compost, with just a few tufts of maroon wool.

What's the weirdest thing you've ever composted?


  1. I use the shredded paper from work for my composter, I don’t seem to have enough “brown” layers. I feel sad that this is my weirdest compost item.

  2. I’ve put an entire poly-cotton blend T-shirt in the bin and a year later pulled out a “ghost” shirt (only the poly threads survived, still woven into a shirt shape).

  3. I had pet rats for a while and I always composted their poop and dirty bedding. Rabbit and Guinea Pig poop is supposed to be great for the garden. I’m assuming that rat poop is fairly similar (they’re all vegetarians).

  4. I have a very broad view of composting, so I can say with conviction that I composted some of my mom and dad because I scattered (a bit of) their ashes in the Potomac River.

  5. Shearling-lined suede slippers that the dog helpfully aerated for me.

    The insides are gone but the suede shell remains. It’s only been 18 months so we shall see.

  6. I’ve composted a couple of squirrels. From time to time we find squirrels inexplicably dead in our yard. We have a couple of big trees, so I suppose one falls or dies of old age or something else from time to time.

    I don’t put them in with the rest of the compost, since if it wasn’t natural causes they died of, I don’t want that on my vegetables. What I did do was dig a foot and a half deep hole in the raspberry and the blueberry patch and drop the squirrel in. The raspberries are doing well. I just planted the one in the blueberry patch this fall, so it’s too early to say.

    Why pass up free compost that almost literally falls on your lap?

  7. I attempted to compost a ‘compostable’ coffee cup. But, after two finished cycles, it was still there – intact. I had to throw it away.

  8. I helped a friend clean out her pantry last week and hauled 2 boxes of expired items to my compost bin — chocolate protein powder, boxed soups, long-expired almond milk, etc.

    And earlier in the year I moved from the place where I’d been living for 18 years and composted all of my own old pantry stuff — salsas, old flour — as well as old socks and underwear. I found the polyester threads when I sifted compost last month. A few years ago I wore out a linen denim jacket working in the garden, so when it was no longer salvageable, into the compost bin!

    Last year someone gave me compost in “compostable” plastic bags, and I’m still finding the bags and pieces of plastic in my bins. I’ve put cotton swabs in the compost, but hadn’t realized they’re now using plastic for the base. And hair from my brush and from the dogs! Sometimes the dog hair remains in clumps for several cycles.

  9. I did a great fall-cleaning and added a lot to the compost bins. Old pantry items: 5+ year old jams and jellies went into the bin. I left the lid off for a few days as the bees and wasps were enjoying the free sugars. Our two angora rabbits love to eat Timothy Hay from inside old toiletpaper-tubes. After the tubes get a bit nibbled-down they go into the compost bin. Also, paper-based egg cartons after we’ve used them a few times and they get pretty flimsy they join the compost. My dog loves to bury her rawhide chew-toys in the pile, then dig them up a few weeks later to chew on again. Our dryer lint goes into the bin, but I wonder about all of the polyester-type fibers… The noisy Sunchips bags went into the bin and broke down within 6 months. I don’t think they’re using the compostable bags anymore though.

  10. I once composted one of those cheap supermarket romance novels. It was so poorly written that I couldn’t bring myself to pass it along to anyone else. I felt I was making a statement by relegating it to the compost heap.

  11. I put those little webby things that Jiffy pots (I think) puts around the peat in their plugs in my compost. I didn’t trust that they would dissolve quickly enough when I planted the seedlings that I had started in them. Sure enough, months later when I turned the pile, there were all those little webby things completely uncomposted. (Not exactly on topic, but thought you might be interested.)

  12. When my pet bunny died, I buried him at the bottom of the compost pile. A year later, there was *nothing* left – no fur, no bones, nothing. Maybe that is where I would like to be buried, too.

  13. A yellow ware bowl.

    Mom used to buy a lot of yellow ware bowls on eBay. She bought a set that were shipped very well, cushioned by shredded paper. Mom thought she got out all the bowls and threw the shredded paper in the bin. A year later, I was shoveling compost for the veggie garden and out rolled a bubble wrapped package. Inside was a pristine, mint-condition tiny yellow-ware bowl.

    Other than that, the weirdest we get it run-of-the-mill garden tools gone missing and tofu.

  14. A friend and I were out in the garden. I had set out a mirror and loved it because it reflected the tops of my catalpa trees. Unfortunately a house finch was mislead by the mirror and flew into it. Without a second thought I tossed the finch into the compost bin. My friend stood there staring at me like I had committed an atrocity. C’est la vie.

  15. After a appalling winter… a moose collapsed in my backyard from starvation and I had a dead moose to deal with and there was no help from Fish and Game or Animal Control so the options were pretty limited to deal with a ton of rotting flesh… the easiest thing I could do was dragging it to the veggie garden, burying it and piling on the compost until the smell went away… yikes! The next year I had amazing crops!

  16. Let’s see…dead lizards, birds, rabbit parts (when I was raising meat rabbits), mice from mouse traps, a bucketful of awful fake cream cheese cake icing, old buttermilk, flour, and old vitamin pills.

  17. My husband and I had been letting two old, no-longer-sleepable futons take up precious space in our small house simply because I couldn’t face consigning them to an anaerobic landfill. Last month we dragged them down to the back acre into the woods, where I spent a few hours shredding the muslim sacks and tearing apart the cotton batting–and forming a gravelike mound interspersed with leaves, pine needles, and humus. It’s cooking nicely, I’m pleased to say. Biggest compost pile I’ve ever built. (And most solidly cellulose.)

  18. Yep, I’ve composted a futon or two. Because I read that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. I just left the first one rolled up at the back of the garden. After a couple of years it was a barely noticable bump.

    Make sure they are pure cotton and find out what kind of fire proofing they have. Mind had borax which is supposed to be an insecticide but it didn’t seem to diminish the wood louse/ pill bug population……..

  19. I don’t know if it’s weird or not… but I blew my nose heartily into a tissue and then dropped it into the compost pail. My husband’s reaction? Ewwww! I didn’t understand the reaction at all but found it interesting.

  20. Nothing too interesting other than resting random items on my compost pile and then finding them 2-3 years later. A kitchen shears (lost again) and a hand tool it of course was an expensive one!
    Birdhouse gourds do not seem to break down in compost piles.

  21. I compost field mice that we catch in our basement, eating the sweet potatoes we are trying to store for the winter.
    I have also composted wild animals that are road-killed.
    And during the growing season (i.e., when it’s warm enough to urinate in a bucket in the garden shed) I add my liquid urea to the pile.
    And Joan Gussow is anything but weird – she is an incredibly intelligent, passionate, and charming person whom I had the good fortune to talk with for more than 30 minutes at the Mother Earth News Fair in PA in October.

  22. Mussel, oyster and clam shells go right into the compost to get cleansed and deoderized. I don’t bother sifting them out before applying to the garden, preferably onto beds with potatoes, squash and other coarse plants. They take a while to break down, but after a season in the rain and sun the shells can be whacked with a metal tool and they shatter easily.

    I’m guessing that my acidic soils can be improved by the lime and calcium and the marine isotopes benefit the plants, as well as the people who eat them.

  23. Hmm, i don’t know, I have some concern about some of the items people have mentioned composting here.

    the lint from vacuum cleaner bags will contain grit and sediment tracked in from outside. If you’ve walked on an asphalt driveway or through parking lots, it could contain bits of petroleum particles, no? that’s how storm water runoff from paved surfaces pollutes our waterways.

    I also wouldn’t compost clothing. How do you know what dyes or other chemicals may have been used in its production?

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