Will It Compost?

By Bonnie Grant | July 5, 2022
Image by jurgute
by Bonnie Grant
July 5, 2022

I put almost everything in my compost tumblers, aside from oil, fatty items, and bones. I even keep a little bag to put used facial tissues, shredded paper towels, paper napkins, ripped up toilet paper rolls, and Q-tips. If something is paper or cotton, it goes in there, aside from cotton balls with nail polish. This bag of garbage provides much needed carbon for essential compost balance. And it also includes hair. 

During the pandemic, we did our own haircuts. This resulted in some leftovers which we thought could be used in the garden somehow. Simply tossing it into the dirt farm for birds to use as nesting material was useful to some extent, but we wondered how else we could use it. We tried a couple of things and they worked in a way, but we discovered some useful details about using hair in the garden.

Deer Don’t Care for Human Hair

Mesh bags filled with hair seem to help deter the deer. It might be the hair or the shavings of Irish Spring soap that are also in the bags. Either way, we are having success with keeping the deer from nibbling on the fruit tree’s new shoots. I’m not sure if it’s the strong scent of the soap or the stink of our hair, but I can report success. 

Hair Mulch

Another way we use up this extra organic item is as a hair mulch. Hair mats very easily and I have used it around the strawberries to prevent weeds from encroaching in the patch, and it seems to deter the slugs and snails when fruit is present. It also holds in moisture and when it gets mixed into the soil, and provides aeration for plant roots. Hair doesn’t break down very fast, so I don’t need to replace it frequently, like I do other organic mulches

Too Much Hair

Since I don’t replace the hair I use in the garden frequently, that results in an overflow of cut locks. Not only our hair, but one of the cat’s hair. Madeline Marmalade is a large orange, long haired beauty. But her hair is 3 layers and it gets hot for her in summer. So she gets a haircut. I have felted her hair and made a few things out of it, but since this is an biannual cut for her, we still have tons of hair left. So I tried composting hair… with mixed results.

As mentioned, hair does not break down very quickly. And I discovered that if you just throw a mass into the tumbler, it will create a mat that even prevents breakdown of the other items. It also gets caught on the spindle in the center of the tumbler. It didn’t break down by the time the rest of the compost was ready to use. I buried this rather sad batch of compost in trenches in the dirt farm. Eventually it will break down, but it wasn’t suitable for containers and the vegetable garden. 

A Little Hair at a Time

The better way I discovered, is to introduce fine layers to the tumbler. This is easy to do by adding one layer and then turning the tumbler to expose fresh compost. By doing this, the hair didn’t form a mat and was mixed better with the other organic items. It also didn’t catch on the spindle. The jury is still out as to whether this will entirely work, as I just did this a few weeks ago. But I am fairly confident it will be fine. My compost may have some hairs mixed in, but it will provide a loose texture that will allow water and nutrients to reach plant roots.

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