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 page on starting a compost pile.

May 3, 2012

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.

"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.

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


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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Our neighbors think we are very odd people when we save grass clippings, leaves, discarded fruit and veggie peels, and now shredded newspaper clippings.

Homemade Compost - The Natural Way To Green Gardening - mixing materials with a rake

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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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January 4, 2007

How do I make my own compost? 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.

Compost pile made with wood pallets.

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May 14, 2001

A layering method first devised by Sir Albert Howard in 1931 while he was doing studies in India.

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March 25, 2008

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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February 24, 2010

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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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

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

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

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

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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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

I need some ideas to start an economical compost pile.

Hardiness Zone: 8a

By Joy Poulos from Slidell, LA


March 30, 20110 found this helpful

You can compost in a pile on the ground if you want to and you don't have pets or kiddos that will "get into it". As far as what goes into it, you don't have to spend any money really: peelings, leaves, etc.

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June 5, 2008

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


By Kim in Georgia (Guest Post)
June 4, 20080 found this helpful

I compost a lot at home and use all table waste with the exception of meat, fat or dairy. In fact, my family, kids and husband, all are now used to putting the "waste" into the compost container instead of the garbage disposal or trash can. I haven't had a problem with critters. Maybe because I always cover my table waste with a thick layer of soil or compost that has ripened. If it's covered well, critters will usually not bother. Hope this helps!

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June 5, 20080 found this helpful

I've never had any problems with critters or creatures disturbing my compost and I use all kinds of kitchen food scraps. I never compost meat or bones.

Just be sure to cover each new addition of table scraps with the other composted materials or some dirt. That ensures that there won't be any odor.

My compost bin is located not far from my back door and I've never had any problems with odors or critters.

Good luck with your composting efforts! It's very worthwhile and makes a fantasticly rich addition to veggie garden soil.

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June 5, 20080 found this helpful

If you are really worried about "critters" take a storage bin (any size - from W-M or home store)and poke some holes around the bottom, sides, and top and use it for your compost. Just turn the thing over (and side to side) often. I have a wire cage I use and have never had critters bother it. Can't convince my husband though!

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By suzin (Guest Post)
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 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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How do I set up an organic compost bin?

Hardiness Zone: 4b

By c henderson from Grand Lake, CO

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ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

October 13, 2009

Can anyone tell us what do you use to start a compost bed? We are trying to start a compost but are not sure what to put in it. Thanks in advance for all your help.

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