Ways & How

How to Start a Compost Pile

How to Start a Compost Pile

Composting is the building block of home gardening. With so much organic waste from our farms and kitchens—estimated to be up to 40% of total farm production—composting is the natural way to go. When we do this, we put back to earth what happens naturally in a process called decomposition, and we minimize the emission of harmful greenhouse gases like methane into the atmosphere. Considering that composting is easy to do, whether at home or on farms, it should be part of every household’s trash bin. Making compost only requires four components: nitrogen-rich ingredients, carbon-rich matter, water, and oxygen. There is also little need for sophisticated contraptions or complicated processes to manufacture nutrient-rich compost. As with all other natural processes, time and temperature are essential to turn waste into “black gold.” If you are willing to put in the effort, you will enjoy a bountiful harvest—literally, if you are planning to establish a garden. To help get you started, here’s an easy-to-follow guide on how to start a compost pile.

  1. Segregate your trash.

    s to facilitate easy separation of organic and inorganic waste.

  2. Collect all kitchen scraps from plant-based materials. Put your “green” matter away in a special, sealed container, so it does not attract pests and rodents. Similarly, collect carbon-rich “browns” like dead twigs and dried leaves.

  3. Assemble your equipment. Your composting tools are as simple as an ensemble of a shovel, a pail, a garden hose, a water-resistant tarp or plastic cover, a water bucket and familiar garden implements.

  4. Identify a location in your backyard or purchase a special bin if you are composting indoors. Outdoor compost pits need to be in a shady area.

  5. Dig up a pit about 3’x3’x3’. Line the bottom of the pit with dried hay, about six inches thick. This bottom layer allows the pile to be properly ventilated later on as the compost material settles. If hay is not available, look for organic but porous materials that create air channels. Cornstalks, straw, and dead twigs are all good materials.

  6. Add a layer of greens to your base. Top off this nitrogen-rich layer with a thin (one- to two-inch) layer of garden soil. Avoid using soils that have been sterilized or treated with insecticides as they would not contain important microbes that facilitate decay.

  7. Add another layer of browns. The layers should observe a 3:1 ratio. (Three inches of browns for every inch of greens.)

  8. Hose down the pile with water. Water it until it is moist but not soggy.

  9. Cover with the waterproof tarp or plastic. While your pile should be moist, it should also be protected from getting soaked.

  10. Turn the pile every two weeks. This helps introduce air into it since it will become flat and matted over time. Mix it well by working from the center outwards and outside towards the center. Moisten the pile regularly. If you are doing it right, you will see steam rising out of your compost pile the first time you turn it. This tells you that your compost is heating up and decomposing.

  11. Leave the pile as it is, or continue layering with greens and browns and soil in between until you have filled the pit.

The process of how to start a compost pile is easily accomplished by novice gardeners or anyone willing to do their share in keeping trash from the landfill. While not everyone has a spare space in their backyard, the ideal location of your compost pit is on bare ground to facilitate oxygen flow and microbial contact with soil. If this is not possible, special bins for this purpose are always available from garden shops. Whatever composting method you choose (backyard or indoors), the compost pile should be sufficiently aerated and well-drained to prevent rotting. As you add more layers, do not compact the pile; let them settle naturally. While not very obvious, temperature is important in the decay process. Turning your pile every two weeks allows it to achieve ideal temperatures between 110° to 160°F when decomposition occurs rapidly. If it is done right, a compost pile started in the spring can be ready by fall.


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