Building a Compost Pile


I currently have a pile of compost and I would like to speed things up a bit by building a compost "system". What's a good composting strategy and what should I build? Any links, tips or ideas would be appreciated.


Deb in MI


Woven wire animal fencing (like chicken wire), snow fencing, cement blocks, bricks or scrap lumber can all be used to enclose a compost pile.

The enclosure should measure at least 3' x 3' x 3' for efficient composting. For a square shaped enclosure you may need supports if you're using wire mesh fencing. You can use metal fence posts to anchor the corners or build 4 simple "picture frames" from 2 x 4s to attach the mesh fencing to. Hinge the frames together with door hinges and make a square box. It's not necessary to enclose the bottom.

A small round enclosure made of snow fence will need little or no support. If you use bricks or concrete blocks to build an enclosure, there is no need to use mortar, but you will need to leave enough space between the blocks to allow for adequate air movement.


If you use lumber for any part of the enclosure, you can expect to replace it every few years as decay sets in. Treated lumber may last longer, but it can also leech harmful chemicals into the soil and compost.

Still another idea is to use a 55-gallon barrel (drum) with a hinged lid. You'll need to drill or hammer several rows of air holes in the sides and bottom. The barrel should sit on concrete blocks to allow for air circulation.

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:

Bottom Layer (directly on soil):

2-3 inches of chopped brush

Second Layer (browns):

6 to 8 inch layer of leaves, straw, hay, sawdust, or other brown.


Third Layer (greens):

Add a layer of vegetable waste, grass clippings, etc.

Final Layer:

Add a handful of commercial fertilizer or a 2 to 3 inch layer of manure. Finish with a couple of shovelfulls of soil. Soil contains the microorganisms necessary to get the process started.

As you build the pile, water each layer until it's damp (like a wrung out sponge). Continue to add layers as you accumulate them, adding a thin layer of soil to the top of green layers and making sure the whole pile stays moist. Turn the pile with a shovel every few weeks to add air to the pile.

About The Author: Ellen Brown is our Green Living and Gardening Expert. Click here to ask Ellen a question! Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at


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