Starting a Compost Pile

Starting your own compost pile can save you money on your garbage bill, reduce the waste you send to the landfill, and will give you your own organic compost that you can use to amend the soil in your garden beds. This is a guide on starting a compost pile.
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June 16, 2009 Flag
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When you empty out your paper shredder, put the shredded paper in the compost pile.

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May 3, 2012 Flag
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Composting recycles organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Although the finished product is a complex mixture of organic matter, bacteria and enzymes, the process of making compost isn't complex at all. It's just a great way to improve your soil while doing something useful with your kitchen and yard waste.
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"Cold" and "Hot" Compost Piles

Double or Triple Heap composting: The most popular way to compost is called Double (or Triple) Heap Composting. Also referred to as "cold" composting, it is a slow but practical method to produce compost and requires little effort on your part. Start by building one compost heap to which you gradually add kitchen scraps, weeds that haven't gone to seed, tree trimmings, and garden wastes until the heap stands 3 feet high. This may take several weeks. Each time you add new materials to the heap, turn it to mix and moisten the existing materials. When the first pile reaches 3 feet high, start a new one right next to it. Each time you add materials to this pile, cover it with a shovelful or two of almost-finished compost from the first heap. This way you are constantly adding your own custom-grown "activator" to your compost. If you want to, add a third pile into the mix so you have three piles in various stages of progress. When you need compost for your garden, take the finished product from your oldest heap.

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Quick fixes for "cold" compost: If your cold pile seems too slow, try these remedies to jump start the decomposition process:

Hot Composting: Many avid composters argue that the very best way to make compost is through a process called "hot" composting. The advantages to hot composting are the speed at which the compost is finished (usually several weeks vs. several months), and the high temperature of the pile (above 130 F), which will kill most weeds, insects, and plants pathogens. The downside is that it requires slightly more work (turning the pile and monitoring the temperature), and you may need to "inoculate" the first pile with microorganisms to get it off and running.

"Cooking" the pile: Start by layering equal amounts of brown and green organic matter until you create a compost pile that is 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide (each layer should be 4 to 6 inches thick). Moisten the pile as you build it and allow it to sit for three days. Then use a pitchfork to turn and re-moisten the pile. As you turn it, try to move the material from the outside of the pile to the inside of the pile. Turn the pile again five days later. At this point you should feel heat radiating from the pile as you turn it. Wait one week and turn the pile again. After the third turning the temperature of the pile should be sufficient to create finished compost in another 4 to 6 weeks.

Directions for building simple compost bins

Vermicomposting

This composting method uses one or more specialized species of earthworms (not the big, burrowing types that live in garden soil) to turn organic wastes-especially kitchen scraps-into high quality compost. The worms are housed in specially designed boxes (usually kept indoors) and fed kitchen scraps, shredded newspaper and cardboard. The finished compost is made up entirely of worm castings and has been shown to be higher in nutrients than compost produced by other methods. Read more about vermicomposting here.

A Recipe for Making Good Compost

The secret to making good compost is getting the right ratio of materials and keeping them evenly moist. When adding materials to your pile, your goal should be to create a mix containing 50% brown materials (rich in carbon), 30% parts green materials (rich in nitrogen) and roughly 10% garden soil. Then add a little water to the mix to encourage activity by insects, earthworms, fungi and other microbes. Finally, add a little high-nitrogen fertilizer (e.g. a few scoops of dry dog food) to jump-start composting activity. If you are creating a "hot" pile adjust the brown/green ratios to 2:1, adding in water as needed. Instead of adding garden soil, you may want to add in a commercial supplement of microorganisms to get your pile started. After that, keep a small amount of finished compost on hand to use as an inoculant for subsequent piles.

50% Brown Matter (carbon-rich, dry) Including:

30% Green Matter (nitrogen-rich, moist) Including:

10% Garden soil
5% water
5%high nitrogen fertilizer

The Finished Product

Your compost is ready to use in the garden when its temperature is cool to the touch, and it has an earthy smell and crumbly texture. To help prevent the enzymes and micronutrients in your compost from leeching out with rain water, cover the heap with a sheet of plastic.

Trouble-shooting Common Composting Problems

Problem: The pile smells like sulfur.
Cause: A pile that smells like "rotten eggs" is either too wet, or lacks oxygen.
Solution: Aerate the pile by turning it over and letting it dry out a bit, and then add more dry materials.

Problem: The pile smells like ammonia.
Cause: This is usually due to fermenting food scraps lying on top of the pile.
Solution: Turn the pile and add additional carbon-rich (brown) material such as leaves.

Problem: The pile smells like sewage and is attracting flies.
Causes: This is most likely the result of too much nitrogen.
Solution: Turn the scraps to the center of pile, and cover them with a layer of garden soil or brown matter.

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May 5, 20120 found this helpful

Everytime I cover my compost pile I get snakes that lay on top and scare the wits out of me. what can I do to make sure the snakes stay away.

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January 4, 2007 Flag
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Question:

How do I make my own compost? Alamuki from Tacoma, WA

Answer:

Alamuki,

Composting doesn't have to be complicated. There are really no hard and fast rules, but here are some tips for getting started.

Find a convenient place near your garden to start a pile. Avoid low-lying areas. You don't want your pile to stand in water.

A compost pile needs to be large enough to hold in heat and moisture, but small enough to allow air into the center. An ideal size is 3 ft. by 3 ft. by 3 ft. This will give you 1 cubic yard of composting space. Piles smaller than this will work, too, just keep in mind that they have a tendency to dry out faster, which slows down the process.

You can enclose your compost heap using any number of available materials: straw bales, wire or wood fencing, blocks or cement bricks, stones, boards or scrap lumber. If you decide to go with wood, use the cheap stuff because rotting compost will eventually rot the wood and it will just have to be replaced. If you want something a little more fancy, there are a dizzying array of prefabricated bins and barrels available, too. You can also search for do-it-yourself plans online that you can customize to your own tastes.

Now all you need to do is start adding the compost. Each time you add some compost it's a great idea to toss a small bit of dirt on top (this adds the bacteria and microbes that do all the work) and sprinkle the pile with a bit of water. You'll want to keep the pile slightly damp, but not overly wet. Every week or so, use a pitchfork or shovel to turn over the pile. This allows air to circulate throughout the pile and along with a bit of moisture, keeps the decomposing process in high gear. Everything will break down eventually, but some people find it more convenient to shred or chop items to reduce their size before adding them to the pile. This also makes the process move along more quickly.

A good ratio organic matter for optimal composting:

  • 50-70% leaves, hay or other dry matter (Browns)
  • 30-50% grass, garbage or manure (Greens)
  • 0-5% dirt (or old compost)
  • a little bit of water
  • good air circulation

It's best to avoid composting animal products (meat, fish, poultry, fat, bones, eggs, and dairy). They tend to smell. Avoid vegetable oils and do not compost plastics or synthetic fibers.

Ellen

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January 4, 20070 found this helpful

Broken eggshells are good to add to compost.

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January 9, 20070 found this helpful

If you live in the country, and don't mind what it looks like......

I live in the country, and don't have any neigbors nearby, so I don't care about how this looks LOL.. My kitchen is at the rear of my house, and I have my compost on the ground right down below my kitchen window. My husband took some cheap plastic sheeting, nailed it to my window ledge outside and made kind of a funnel down into my compost opening. (just to keep the side of the house clean)

Except for bug season, (when I have a screen in my window) I just have to open my window and drop my vegetable and fruit peelings out my window. Talk about convenience!

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January 11, 20070 found this helpful

June 5, 2008 Flag
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Composting is an easy, inexpensive way to reduce your yard and kitchen waste, while keeping your garden filled with nutrient-rich soil. Keep your compost pile neat and trouble-free, by preventing these common problems before they arise.

wood sided compost pile

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March 25, 2008 Flag
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What is Compost? Compost is the end result of the decomposition of organic material, or waste. This occurs naturally in the bush, or a forest, by the accumulation of debris from plant and animal material; and provided there is moisture present, decomposition will occur.

Pail of vegetable trimmings

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March 30, 2011 Flag
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I need some ideas to start an economical compost pile.

Hardiness Zone: 8a

By Joy from Slidell, LA

April 1, 20110 found this helpful

Check with your city waste services. Here in Phoenix, they take the big barrels used for trash pickup, when they are no longer usable for that, drill holes in them, remove the lids and sell them for a small amount ($10 the last time I bought them) and I think they also came with some kind of compost starter. Compost is black gold for the garden. Especially good in compost is coffee grounds as the worms love them and your soil loves the worms.

Pat

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April 2, 20110 found this helpful

Even though your question and all these comments are about starting the pile, there is something I want to add to get a running start. Right this minute, start saving egg shells and all peels you make like from carrots, cukes, apples, celery etc. so they can be added to the pile once you start it. You can easily do this by taking an empty large coffee can, with a small hole punched into the plastic cover (for air), and having it right near the kitchen counter.

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June 5, 2008 Flag
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If using table waste in the compost pile does it attract animals to feed from it? I am concerned that table waste will attract mice, rats, raccoons, etc. If so it seems that this would give the critters access to the vegetables in the garden as well.

Stephen from Kansas

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June 5, 20080 found this helpful

I've composted for several years and have had no problem...I compost egg shells, coffee grounds, veg peelings, even some cooked veges, peanut shells, weeds, leaves, grass clippings, etc...but I do not compost anything that is meat, fats, bones, or animal poo...I make a thin layer of scraps and cover it with a layer of shredded newspaper, junk mail, etc...I mix it in some too.....I keep a paper shredder in our back garage so it is handy....you need a mix of greens/wet stuff (weeds, vege scraps, grass clippings) along with dry/browns (leaves, shredded paper)..and they need to be mixed some...I put the layer of shredded newspaper on and leave it till I start to put in greens again...then I mix it, put in the greens and cover it with shredded newspaper or dry leaves again....

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June 6, 20080 found this helpful

My dad, who lives in a subdivision, has a terrible problem with rats, racoons, etc. invading his compost pile. And they are NOT SHY either. He put out traps and rat poison

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June 9, 20080 found this helpful

May 14, 2001 Flag
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A layering method first devised by Sir Albert Howard in 1931 while he was doing studies in India.

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February 24, 2010 Flag
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Do you throw your Tim Hortons' cups in the recycle or garbage? I found out that they can be composted. So I rinse them out and place one at a time, inside my small compost container, and use them for soggy things like tea bags and coffee filters, oatmeal too.

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April 28, 2008 Flag
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Composting adds free organic material to your garden which helps the soil retain and drain water and encourages healthier plants. Here is an easy way to compost.

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February 23, 2006 Flag
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For maximum efficiency, the compost pile needs to consist of the right carbon/nitrogen (brown to green) ratio (between 25:1 to 30:1). If your bin is not completely enclosed on the bottom, use the following recipe...

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September 19, 2005 Flag
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Used in composting to stimulate biological activity. Because they are usually high in nitrogen, activators feed microorganisms; they might also contain other decay organisms that become introduced to the compost via the activator.

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June 7, 2005 Flag
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A quick and easy compost method if you don't have manure but do have a good supply of grass clippings. Grass is quite high in nitrogen. Mix one part of sawdust with four parts of fresh grass clippings.

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April 8, 2001 Flag
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During the winter I set a large trash can outside my kitchen door. I place my food scraps (compostable ones) in this during the winter. There is no smell as it rarely gets above freezing in Vermont during the winter.

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