Homemade Topsoil


Topsoil is the uppermost layer of soil on the Earth's surface. This is the layer of soil from which most plants take their nutrients. Topsoil is caused by the breakdown of materials from the Earth's surface and may be composed of any structure from clay or sand to loam or humus. You can make your own rich, organic topsoil through composting.

Step 1

Collect material for your compost pile year-round. Compost piles should contain both nitrogen rich materials (called organic greens) and carbon-filled material (called organic browns). These organic greens include kitchen scraps, grass clippings and clover. Organic browns include dead leaves, sawdust and straw.

Step 2

Cut all of your organic materials into pieces that are 1 inch in diameter to give the beneficial microbes in your compost pile more surfaces to decompose. You can cut down kitchen scraps with a pair of shears. Larger scraps, such as grass clippings, dead leaves and straw can be cut down to size using a lawn mower.

Step 3

Build a compost pile in a compost bin by placing your organic greens and organic browns in layers. Organic brown layers should be three times thicker than organic green layers. Your compost pile should be at least 3 feet square, but no more than 5 feet square.

Step 4

Water your compost pile with a garden hose. Your compost pile should stay as wet as a wrung-out sponge. You can test the dampness of the compost pile by inserting a moisture meter designed for measuring the moisture in the soil of potted plants. If the needle of the meter is in the midranges of the dial, then the soil is properly moist.

Step 5

Monitor the heat in the center of your compost pile using a meat thermometer. The center of the pile should remain between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. If the compost pile grows too warm, it will kill the beneficial microbes. If the pile grows cooler, it will take longer to decompose. Turn your compost pile inside out with a shovel or a pitchfork whenever the pile becomes too cool.

Step 6

Separate the dirt from the undecomposed organic material with a sieve when the pile is mostly reduced to dirt. Return the organic pieces to the compost pile. Place the dirt in your garden.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost bin
  • Grass clippings
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Clover
  • Straw
  • Dead leaves
  • Sawdust
  • Garden fork
  • Meat thermometer
  • Soil moisture content meter
  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Pitchfork


  • Washington State University Extension: Soil Mixes
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Composting and Mulching
  • NC State University: Composting: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes
  • Ohio State University Extension: Composting at Home

Who Can Help

  • Extension: Making and Using Compost for Organic Farming
Keywords: creating compost, making topsoil, organic fertlizer

About this Author

Tracy S. Morris has been a freelance writer since 2000. She has published two novels and numerous online articles. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers, including "Ferrets," "CatFancy," "Lexington Herald Leader" and "The Tulsa World."