Beautiful goldfinches with their lovely black wings are abundant now!  Did you know there’s another kind of “black gold” that YOU can create, and that it helps birds?

“Black gold” comes from compositing—the natural way of recycling leaves, yard waste, and food scraps. Composting helps birds because it helps plants grow (birds really need plants!!).  Composting also reduces the air pollution that drives climate change, and climate change is tough on birds.  In addition, composting saves money. Win, win, win.

Anything that grows eventually falls apart; composting speeds that up with a great environment for good bacteria, fungi, worms, and sow bugs to do the breaking down. What these critters give us is the rich black soil we call “compost.” It’s fantastic fertilizer. It’s so valuable to gardeners that they nicknamed it “black gold.” (Garden plants probably just think of compost as the best dessert ever!)

Composting is done in huge industrial facilities, in smaller community systems, and in ordinary yards using a composting barrel or pile. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps and yard waste together make up MORE THAN A THIRD of what Americans throw away.  All this plant-based waste could be composted instead.

If you have a yard, consider creating your own “black gold” (sorry, you can’t make bracelets out of this gold).  If you don’t have a yard, would someone with a yard appreciate your plant-food kitchen scraps?  Why give someone gold jewelry for the holidays when you could give them potato peels and coffee grounds?  Black gold is better than yellow gold!

If you live in an apartment, you could use a small countertop composting pot, and you could join with others to combine the finished compost from all the participating apartments for distribution.  You could also arrange with building management to have a single large barrel where residents could put their finished compost.  Management could then let the community know how to access the compost.

Making compost keeps plant materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a gas that creates climate instability.  Because composting in your yard or apartment is different from what happens in a landfill, your composting won’t make methane gas. End result: you get great fertilizer and the air is cleaner. And your garden plants are happy without your having to sing to them.

Your making compost also means that your town doesn’t have to pay to dispose of your plant matter, and you don’t have to pay for fertilizer. … So what can be composted?

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and paper coffee filters
  • Paper tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Shredded newspaper (you need to shred it so there can be air pockets in your compost)
  • Cardboard (in small pieces)
  • Paper (as long as it doesn’t have any wax or plastic coating and it isn’t glossy)
  • Yard trimmings (leaves and stems, plus twigs the width of a pencil or smaller, broken into pieces)
  • Grass clippings
  • Houseplants (but only if they’ve been wandering around the house being naughty)
  • Hay and straw
  • Leaves
  • Sawdust (if the wood wasn’t treated with chemicals)
  • Wood chips (if the wood wasn’t treated with chemicals)
  • 100% cotton or wool rags (but not other fabrics)
  • Hair and fur (but not synthetic hair extensions)
  • Fireplace ashes (but not other kinds of ashes)

Notice that eggshells, hair, and fur are the ONLY things on the list that didn’t come from plants.  Eggshells provide calcium to the compost, and hair and fur provide nitrogen, both of which are good for plants.  (And maybe before the fur is fully broken down, it’s cuddly for the plants.)

Bear in mind that it’s good to have a balance of these items.  A huge amount of any one type of item could make your compost less-than-ideal as fertilizer.

Want to learn how to do your own composting?  Check out the simple details at

By Christine M. Du Bois