How To Make And Maintain A Compost Pile

Posted on: 25 August 2014


As a responsible consumer, you probably think you already do your part to save the world when you place your recycling bins out for pickup. While recycling your trash certainly makes an impact on the amount of trash in the landfills, it doesn't do anything about the amount of food waste. By starting your own compost pile, you can put food scraps to good use and return their nutrients to the soil.

Commercial Composters

Decide whether you will purchase a composter or will practice natural composting in a big pile or bin. There are advantages of both, of course. Composters come in all sizes and shapes, are aesthetically pleasing and many even do the turning for you. This means all you need to do it supply the composting material, such as food and yard scraps, and the rest is up to the composter. The downside is that composters can be expensive and may require significant amounts of food scraps. Go to site for more information.

Compost Heaps or Piles

Making your own compost heap or pile requires more work, but doesn't require a financial investment, other than a garden fork and some scrap wire or wood. You will need to layer, water, and turn it by hand to ensure the pile composts properly. You can also start as small or as large as you want and are always in control of your compost.

Making a Simple Compost Heap

  1. Select an area in a partially shaded area. The heat from the sun is needed to stimulate decomposition, but placing the compost pile in an area that receives all day sun may cause problems with excessive drying, explains the Colorado State University Extension. A compost pile in complete shade will work, but it will take much longer to make finished compost. For best results your compost pile needs a mixture of sun and shade.
  2. Remove the vegetation from a 4 by 4 foot area and level the soil. Lay recycled wood or tree branches around the perimeter of the area and attach chicken wire so that the wire rests over the soil, but provides a shallow channel between the wire and the soil. This creates the base of your compost pile and allows air to circulate around the bottom of the pile.
  3. Add a 6- to 8-inch layer of dry organic matter, such as leaves, hay or straw, to the compost heap.
  4. Follow with a layer of green organic matter, such as grass clippings, and fruit and veggie scraps from the kitchen.
  5. Cover this layer with dry or brown organic material.
  6. Sprinkle one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer over the top of the pile.
  7. Add a thin layer of garden soil or finished compost to provide the pile with healthy microbes to speed decomposition.
  8. Mix the layers together with a garden fork.
  9. Water the pile to moisten it.

Saving and Adding Kitchen Scraps to the Pile

Adding new organic matter to your compost pile regularly keeps the pile active and speeds decomposition. The key is to provide both wet (green) organic matter and dry (brown) organic matter regularly to maintain a balance of green and brown matter. Your fruit and veggie scraps will make up the bulk of your green matter for the compost pile. Yard wastes, such as dried leaves, dried cornstalks and twigs will make up the bulk of your brown matter.

  • Place a bowl or bucket in the kitchen for fruit and veggies scraps. This includes peelings and cores, as well as, coffee grounds, teabags and eggshells. Avoid any foods with dairy products, meat, bones or grease. These are not suitable for the compost bin. You may wish to purchase a bucket with a sealable cover to prevent odors in the kitchen. An old coffee can or other recycled container works well.
  • Collect yard and garden wastes, such as twigs, fallen leaves and grass clippings for your compost pile. You may wish to store some dry matter near the compost pile for covering green matter when you add it to the pile.
  • Add your kitchen scraps (and other green matter) to the compost pile frequently and cover them with a layer of dry material. This prevents odors and deters animals from visiting your compost pile. 
  • Turn the compost pile once or twice a week, or whenever you add significant amounts of new organic matter to the pile. This aerates the pile giving it the oxygen it needs to decompose.
  • Water the compost heap whenever it feels dry to the touch. Compost heaps should be moist, but not soggy.

Don't throw those kitchen scraps in the trash. Use them for making compost and return them to the soil. Compost improves your soil by increasing aeration, promoting drainage and providing your garden with slow-release nutrients, too.