What is a compost pile?
How does it work?
Should you learn how to make a compost pile yourself?
A compost pile is a collection of materials that can break down organically and turn into compost. Compost can then be used for plant fertilizer and can keep your garden and lawn plants healthy and strong.
Compost piles work by adding waste to the pile, allowing it to heat, and aerating it often enough to keep it alive. As microorganisms form inside the compost, it breaks down and becomes powdery over time.
It’s easy to learn how to compost at home. In this article, we’ll teach you the basics of how to get started composting, even if you have never tried it before.
Read on to learn more about how to build a compost pile from scratch.
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How to Make a Compost Pile
Check out the information below to learn how to make a compost pile of your own. Gather the materials listed in the first section before you move on to the steps outlined in the second section.
- Space – You’ll need enough room to compost in your backyard, or you’ll need an indoor composting pile or worm bin.
- Bin or some containment area – Enclose the compost area as much or as little as you like.
- Shovel – This will allow you to turn the compost.
- Soil – Ideally, you should use your own backyard soil if possible. If not, you can purchase soil for composting from many home improvement stores.
- Brown and green material – These types of materials are both required to begin your compost.
- Garden hose or other water source – Place your compost pile near your garden hose so you can sprinkle it with water regularly and keep it moist.
Steps to Follow
Pick a good location first. Your compost pile’s location should be:
- Accessible. You should be able to get to it easily, but it should be somewhat more difficult for pets or very young kids to get to.
- Near to water. Keep your garden hose close by for easy maintenance.
- Warm but not too hot. Don’t put it in direct sunlight, but be sure it does get some sun each day.
- Shady but not too cool. Give the compost some shade each day, but don’t store it in complete shade.
- Away from animal locations. Discourage pets and wild animals from your compost pile as much as possible.
- Follow local rules and guidelines. Some locations have rules about compost placement. Brush up on these before you choose where yours will go.
Start in fall if possible, so you have plenty of both nitrogen and carbon sources from nature.
- It’s not impossible to start your compost at other times of the year, but it’s best to begin in fall. You’ll still have lawn trimmings available, but you’ll also have dry, dead leaves on hand. At other times of the year, you may need to supplement either green or brown materials from other sources.
Choose whether or not you want a pile or an enclosed container.
Some people use composting machines or bins outdoors, while others simply place their pile on the ground and let it do its job. If you choose a pile, consider enclosing it with a fence or some other containment. Even if this is simply intended to block the compost from view, it can help keep your backyard clean and safe.
Start with the basics for your first few rounds of composting.
- Fruit and vegetable peels and some plant trimmings are a good start. These are safe and easy to compost in all situations. You may also be able to add some crushed eggshells to the mix after a while, once you get the hang of the fruit and veggies.
- Avoid dairy and meat until you have an established composting pile. These types of waste are hard to break down and take some experience to get right.
Balance nitrogen and carbon (or green and brown) materials.
Usually, it’s a good idea to aim for a 50/50 balance, or get as close to this as possible. If you go too far in one direction over the other, you may cause the compost pile to fail.
Add water when necessary.
This isn’t necessary all the time, but you should add water here and there to keep the compost pile moist. Putting too much water on the pile may cause the compost to fail, however, so be cautious when doing this. During colder months, it may not be necessary at all. If you’ve had a lot of rain, it also probably isn’t necessary.
Build your compost pile by layering it properly. There are many different ways to layer your compost, but some are more user-friendly than others.
- Carbon, nitrogen, topsoil is the best layering solution in most instances. When building your compost pile on existing soil, you should then add brown carbon-rich materials and top it with green nitrogen-rich materials. Finish off with more soil to complete the layering.
Stir or turn.
You’ll need to stir or turn your compost at least once a week. You may need to do this more frequently, depending on the size of the pile.
Maintain the temperature of the compost pile.
Consider covering it with a tarp for warmth during very cold months.
Wait until the compost has processed.
After some time—usually about a month, give or take a week—you should have compost. If something went wrong along the way, however, you may not have compost by this time. Check your temperature, water levels, and aeration to ensure your compost does its best.
Now that you know how to make compost pile spaces in your own backyard, how can you learn to maintain these areas? Here are a few tips to remember for maintaining your compost pile:
- Keep the pile moist enough. Some people worry about watering their compost pile, but you should sprinkle it with water now and then to keep it moist. Don’t overdo it, however, of the compost will not break down at all and may start to smell foul, too.
- Ensure the temperature stays warm but not above 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is too high, good bacteria will die off. If it’s too low, they won’t grow in the first place.
- Keep rodents away as much as possible. Of course, you can’t prevent animals from getting into your compost pile forever. However, you can bury the types of waste that are more enticing to rodents deeper within the pile. This way, they won’t notice the waste, and it will be long broken down before they have a chance to get into it.
- Break down items into smaller or shredded pieces. Doing this will allow them to compost more quickly, since they will already be somewhat “broken down” to begin with. Adding whole branches, for example, will make your compost take a long time.
Remember this information to help you get a better head start on your compost pile and to keep it functioning successfully for a long time to come.