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How to Make a Compost Pile ( For A Sustainable Garden!)

How to Make a Compost Pile

Did you ever consider doing gardening and making a compost pile? Gardening is one of the most worthwhile pastimes enjoyed by homeowners. Access to a green environment and growing plants can help boost a person’s well-being, too. It can be a form of therapy, provide a sense of fulfillment, and a source of happiness because it can help lower stress and anxiety. 

Nurturing plants in the garden or yard and watching them grow can give people a sense of accomplishment and pride. In this article, we will be discussing how the free hobby of gardening can be helpful for you and your home. Let’s start by talking about compost and compost piles.

Understanding what a compost pile is

Understanding what a compost pile is

Have you ever heard of a compost pile? Do you know what process to take to be able to have this in your yard? First of all, let’s understand what a compost pile is before getting on with the important steps done in the process.

You have to understand that a compost pile works to enrich the soil in your yard or garden. It helps get rid of pests and diseases on your plant and keeps the moisture on the ground. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers which will not only benefit your plant but your entire household as well.

Types of Composting

Types of Composting

Onsite Composting

As there are many types of plant you can have in your yard, there are also many types of composting that you can do. This includes onsite compositing wherein small amounts of food waste can be left to compost on the site. This will help reduce the amount of food left to be thrown away. Aside from that, you can leave trimmings and dry leaves onsite to compost. Take note that you can only do this for small amounts and huge quantities must be composted accordingly.


Have you ever heard about this type of composting? In this part of the article, we will be talking about vermicomposting. This involves red worms that are left in a bin to feed on food wastes and other natural material including wood, weed, and the like to create compost. After three to four months, the worms will break these material into castings, or otherwise known as high quality composts. A worm bin is easy to make or you can simply buy this from a gardening shop. Take note that 1 l. of worms mix into the bin can eat up to half a pound of the natural material you place inside.

Aerated Composting

Do you ever wonder what those garbage dump trucks do with all the natural wastes they collect? These materials can actually be turned into bigger composts known as aerated or turned windrow composting. This is best done when volumes of natural waste from food-processing businesses are collected by local governments and turned into significant amounts of compost that can be available for locals to buy at a cheaper price. It is suited for large volumes such as that generated by entire communities and collected by local governments, and high volume food-processing businesses (e.g., restaurants, cafeterias, packing plants). It will yield significant amounts of compost, which might require assistance to market the end-product. Local governments may want to make the compost available to residents for a low cost or for free.

In-Vessel Composting

This type does not take much space unlike the previously mentioned method in this articles. It can take in any type of natural material to process including meat, manure, food wastes and many others. Since this method involves feeding materials into a huge drum or a similar machine, temperature, air, moisture and other conditions can be easily controlled.

What benefits can I get from making a compost pile?

What benefits can I get from making a compost pile

Is having a compost pile at home beneficial? Composting is one of the easiest gardening projects you can make; it is also the most important. Adding compost will benefit both the plant and the environment as most of this compost comes from recycled kitchen and yard waste.

Composting helps to enrich the soil and retain moisture. Using compost can help a plant grow healthy and avoid diseases and pests. It also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers since it is processed naturally. Using compost can also encourage fungi production and beneficial bacteria that help break down organic matter. The result of this process is a rich nutrient-filled substance called humus. Landfills can also benefit from using these brown materials since this will help reduce methane emissions and lower the carbon footprint.

Can I use grass clippings to compost?

Can I use grass clippings to compost

Do you often have a lot of kitchen scraps and you don’t exactly know how to get rid of them? If so, making compost can help solve this. Building a healthy compost pile for your plant requires a good ratio of two elements: carbon and nitrogen. Compostable materials are usually carbon or nitrogen-based which help maintain a working balance for the result, which in this case is the humus, to work well with the plant.

These carbon-rich, organic materials which you can put in your compost pit can be branches of trees, dried leaves, fruit and vegetable peels, wood bits, sawdust pellets, wood ash, shredded brown paper bags, cardboard, paper towel, coffee grounds, and filter, corn stalks, straw, conifer seeds, eggshells, peat moss and used animals beddings to name a few.

Meanwhile, check out these nitrogen-rich matters that can provide raw materials for making enzymes in your compost pit. These include animal manure, kitchen scraps, green leaves, flower cutting, food scraps, and grass clippings from lawns.

Making a healthy compost pile means having more carbon material present in the pile than nitrogen. The rule of thumb is to use two-thirds of brown materials. These brown materials can provide carbon and one-third green or nitrogen. Having more bulky brown materials in the pile can help oxygen to penetrate well and nourish the organism that resides there. 

Water is also needed to help break down organic matter. When piles are a smelly and decomposing anaerobic mass of dense materials, it means there are too many nitrogen based materials in the pile. To practice good composting hygiene, cover the fresh nitrogen materials with carbon-rich ones. If in doubt as to the ratio, just add more carbon.

How to Build a Compost Pile

How to Build a Compost Pile

Set up the Foundation of your Compost Pile

Are you ready to make a compost pile in your garden? Here’s what you have to do first. Find a good location where to set your compost pile up. Find an area that can be accessed. It is also important to place it where it can be within reach by your hose. You need to water it during dry spells but not too much that it will soak the materials. Avoid places where there are structures like a fence or shed since the composting process involves decaying and rotting. Make sure that you know your area’s local rules about making compost.

The second thing to keep in mind is choosing the right time of the year in making compost. You can set your pile up in any season but certain times are better including spring and summer. This is when more nitrogen materials are available and fewer carbon materials. During fall, however, both high nitrogen and carbon materials are present in rich quantities, courtesy of lawn trimmings and dead leaves.

The third step is containing your finished compost. The fastest way to build a compost pile is by making a simple mound in the garden. Just choose the area and throw everything in a heap and let nature take care of it.

You can also try the Vermicompost system. This is also an efficient and faster way of composting where you use a compost tumbler and worms to break down your pile. It can result in the production of natural and high-quality compost soils and fertilizing liquid for your garden.

The next that you can do is to use a basic container for your pile. This will keep the pile and control your compost area from spreading out. To avoid eyesore in your garden, measure at least 3’x3’ plot. This can be big enough to accommodate a large number of organic materials for composting. Use some 2×4 wood stakes or any medium-sized branches and drive them on your 3’x3’ square plot. Then, leave an opening on one of the sides of your plot to easily access your compost pile. You can have it turned using a fork or shovel. 

Regular Composting Cycle

Regular Composting Cycle

Do you know how to maintain your regular composting cycle? You have to know what is allowed to be placed in your pile. Anything that rots can be composted except for those coming from diseased plants. Cheese or meat that does not decay properly is also not a good composting material. Other materials that should not be in your compost piles can include the following:

  • Coal or charcoal ash – these contain harmful substances.
  • Black walnut trees, leaves, or twigs – they release harmful substances.
  • Dairy products like butter, milk, yogurt, or sour cream – Create an odor that can attract flies and rodents.
  • Insect ridden or diseased plants – they might survive and destroy healthier plants.
  • Fats, lard, oils, grease 
  • Scraps of meat or fish bones
  • Pet waste 

You also have to balance the carbon and nitrogen materials when turning the pile into a composter. A light water mist enough to dampen the composter is a must but avoid soaking. Layer your pile with 60% carbon (dead/brown/dry), and 40% nitrogen. 

For a faster-composting cycle, using shredded newspaper can also help. It can also make a neater pile that can easily be turned. Large natural materials take time to decompose and can impede aerobic decomposition. However, shredding can help in creating a bigger surface area for organic material. Meanwhile, vegetable and other moist organic material should not be shredded. These materials can become soggy and make aerobic decomposition tricky.

Then, you have layering. There are three basic layers in a compost pile and doing it in the right order is important. This includes:

  • Layer One: Carbon

This has hay, sod, straw, leaves small twigs, untreated sawdust are some of the carbon-rich materials. Place the bulkier items at the bottom and the lighter materials on top. 

  • Layer Two: Nitrogen

This layer will determine the composting process since nitrogen materials are mostly mix of vegetable scraps, grass clippings, manure, garden debris, and starters. This will feed the microbial army and start decomposition.

  • Layer Three: Top Soil

Use natural soil for this purpose as they contain or nurture the much-needed microbes for the composting job. Avoid sterile potting soil or soils treated with insecticides.

You can also start adding twigs or large stems of a plant which can create spaces where air can flow. Add these every 8 inches (20.3 cm) or so to ensure proper airflow in your pile. Non-compostable materials can be used but make sure it does not contain toxins that can leak on your compost.

Compost Pile Maintenance

Compost Pile Maintenance

Have you ever wondered how to maintain your pile? Here are some tips for maintenance.

  • Stirring the Pile Occasionally

Using a pitchfork, check the center of the pile by lifting the middle to the outer edges and outer edges to the middle. These areas should be misted with water if dry to ensure proper and even decomposition. 

  • Maintain the Pile

The center of the pile should be hot and evenly moist. Use a shovel to stir when the center is below 110°F or 43°C. Stirring will turn the organic material around and maintain the temperature needed.

  • Activate your Compost Pile

Compost piles are ready for use 3 to 4 months after they are assembled. If you are not using the piles often or adding new compost layers, you need not stir them often. 

  • Keep it Hot

You can throw in natural materials for composting in your pile and let nature take care of it. This is a slower process and can take a year to decay.

FAQ About Compost Pile Making

FAQ About Compost Pile Making

How do you start a compost pile?

Have you checked out your kitchen for food scraps and other kitchen waste? These are the basics you will need to get that compost pile up and running in your garden. For sure, you are wanting that soil amendment to have your garden ready to planted with different flowers or even vegetables and other fruit-bearing plants.

You can start using your backyard or your garden for your composting project. Find a dark, shady spot close to a water source. You can the start collecting yard waste and add these to the pile. Make sure to chop or shred large materials before adding. Moisten dry materials as they are added. Add more materials like grass clippings from your lawn, vegetable and fruit peelings, and other green waste burying them under 10 inches of compost materials. 

What is the quickest way to make compost?

Do you want it the fast way? Simply turn the pile more often to allow more microorganisms and oxygen to work faster. Turning and aeration actually makes decomposing faster which in turn can be used to make rich soil. You can also do aeration every other day or so to make compost faster.

What items are safe to add to a compost pile?

Composting requires three basic ingredients only including the green or the nitrogen-rich materials, the brown, including coffee grounds, which are the carbon materials, and water which helps to break down the organic materials. A compost pile should have an equal amount of brown and green materials and should be alternately layered when using different-sized materials.

How do I start a small compost bin?

A compost bin is a container where you place your organic waste like peelings of fruits or vegetables and turn them into compost that can be used to nourish the soil of your plant. Continuous bins will allow you to keep adding natural waste throughout the composting process. There are a variety of compost bins you can use. Some are store brought and others can be a DIY project for you. The different materials you can use, whether stand-alone or in combination, can include stone, cinder blocks, wire fencing, plastic, ceramic, lumber and branches from harvested woods.  

Using compost bins is a traditional tried and tested method of decomposing natural material and adding them to a pile. Building a composting structure can be difficult for some people but composting has more benefits that can outweigh the work involved in starting it. 

You can also buy a container from a garden shop or department stores. Poke a hole in the lid and base to allow ventilation and drainage. Place the bin in a cool sunny spot where it can get plenty of sunlight. 

After that, you can prepare your bin by adding shredded newspapers soaked in water to coat the bottom. Pour soil on paper and drop in worms. Then toss in your scraps to get on with the process. You can toss in eggshells, paper, tea, coffee and filters, fruits and vegetables, and leaves. Do not add plastic, bones, meat, or dairy. 

Then, simply repeat the process by containing to pile scraps and papers until it is full. Check on your materials making sure they are decomposed well enough to be used on your plant. If your bins cannot supply the amount of compost you need, consider having two bins where you can get compost alternately. In this way, you don’t need to wait for a longer time for your compost to mature.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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