Sheet Composting – Gettin' My Hands on Brown Matter ~ Part 3

Browns are carbon rich materials.
Dry or woody vegetation and matter such as dried leaves,
sticks, straw, and even newspaper and cardboard
are great brown matter to use for composting.

Part 3

So, in Part 2 I told you how I scored big-time and got a lot of free cow manure that helped me solve the issue of having enough green matter on hand for my sheet compost pile. But I also had to get my hands on a lot of brown matter because I didn’t have enough of that to build up my pile, either.

As I mentioned in Part 1 I had to find an additional source of brown matter to be able to layer my garden bed with enough carbon-rich matter. I lucked out by getting my hands on lots and lots of dried leaves due to the fact there was someone who’d raked their property and because they were into gardening, they sent out an email saying they had all these bagged leaves and anyone could come and take them. Well I jumped at the chance, raced over there the next morning and took 20+ bags! 🙂

bags of leaves for sheet composting

So, if you are in a lack-of-brown-matter situation that I seem to be in every year I want to compost — even if I’m composting in a small bin — you’ll need to come up with alternative ways to get your hands on some good ‘ol brown stuff!

One idea is to save up lots of newspapers or cardboard, as these are great carbon-rich materials that can be used. You could go to your local recycling center and reclaim newspapers in the recycling bin. I did that one year. I doubt you’ll run into any argument from anyone if you tell them why you’re diving into the newspaper bin taking out newspapers — I sure didn’t!

Or another idea is to go into the woods and gather up brown matter like dried leaves, pine needles, small sticks and branches. Or, if need be buy a bale or two of straw at a local farmers co-op. Straw bales are only a few dollars apiece. I also added partially decomposted straw into my sheet compost bed. I found discarded (free!) straw bales scattered around a new housing development. Straw bales are normally used to help keep erosion from happening at new construction sites. (Ask permission first before taking anything from a construction site!)

Sometimes you (and I) have to think outside the box on how to get our hands on enough greens and browns if we are building a large sheet composting pile or bed and if we don’t have a situation where we are able to easily stockpile everything from our own garden or kitchen refuse.

So, with not too much effort and some luck, I had more than enough leaves (and straw) to make nice thick layers of brown matter in-between the layers of greens. Read about how I scouted up lots of green matter here: Part 4 called “Sheet Composting – Gettin’ My Hands on Green Matter.”

If you want to learn more about composting, and lots of other eco-friendly gardening methods and great DIY projects, please head over to The Shoestring Gardener information page. Thanks!


  1. Claire Meggs says:

    I have a suggestion for saving kitchen composting materials that has eliminated smell, fruit flies, mold, cleaning holding containers, and looking at the stuff. I keep a large bowl lined with a plastic grocery bag in the freezer. I add the scraps to the bowl till full then take it out and dump it! Works great!

  2. Thanks for sharing your tip Claire.

    What I’ve done for years is to keep a recycled – OF COURSE! 😉 – medium sized plastic container in the under-sink cabinet. I put my scraps, coffee grounds, etc. in there and dump into the compost pile when it gets full. Now, I’ve never had an issue with smell or fruit flies. Probably because I keep the lid on it and it’s not such as big container that stuff doesn’t get emptied out before it starts getting rank.

    Anyway … whatever collection method works for any of us is great, as I’m a HUGE advocate of composting everything that can go into the pile and am pleased to see people doing it. Even apartment dwellers can have a small 5-gallon bucket compost bin to make homemade compost for their house plants, or veggies they may grow.

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