How to Make Compost With Hay Leaves


Not only does compost provide a myriad of nutrients for your garden and household potted plants, but composting also gives farmers and small-scale homesteaders an easy way to dispose of old crops, such as hay. Often called flakes, hay leaves are the individual sections of hay that are bound together with rope or wire to make a hay bale and they provide an ideal source of nitrogen (if the hay is fresh and green) or carbon (if the hay is old and brown) for your compost pile. Whether you have some extra hay leaves on hand that you can't use or you found some old, spoiled flakes of hay in your barn, you can easily convert it to a nutrient-dense soil amendment through composting.

Step 1

Collect the hay leaves with other materials that you want to compost. Look for discarded or spoiled flakes of hay that your livestock won't eat. If you don't have livestock, check with neighboring livestock farmers or area crop farmers to see if they have any bales of hay that they need to dispose of. Look for other sources of high-nitrogen materials (such as fresh grass clippings, vegetable peels, fruit scraps and cow or horse manure) and high-carbon materials (such as straw, newspaper, dead leaves and cardboard) to produce a richer compost.

Step 2

Remove a 3-foot-by-3-foot section of sod covering the ground at your composting location to allow the millions of decomposing bacteria in the soil immediate access to your hay waste. Shred apart dry, brown flakes of hay and sprinkle handfuls of it loosely across the composting location. Continue the shredding process with additional leaves of old hay and mix it with other carbon materials until you've created an 8-inch layer of loosely piled brown waste.

Step 3

Sprinkle 3 inches of nitrogen-rich organic waste (including any freshly baled green hay that you may have) on top of the shredded leaves of hay. Top the high-nitrogen layer with several handfuls of plain topsoil. Spray the layers of waste with a light mist of water from your garden hose. Top the nitrogen-rich materials with another 8-inch layer of pulled-apart, dry hay leaves and other carbon-rich materials. Repeat the layering and dampening process with the brown and green ingredients until your compost pile is 3 feet tall.

Step 4

Allow the compost pile to sit for approximately four to five weeks, then mix the materials together with a manure fork to introduce fresh oxygen to the heap. Check the moisture level once weekly to ensure that it remains about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. You should be able to produce finished compost within approximately six months as long as you mix the compost at least once every two to three weeks.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not use hay that has been treated with herbicides since it could contaminate your finished compost.

Things You'll Need

  • Waste hay
  • High-carbon organic waste
  • High-nitrogen organic waste
  • Topsoil
  • Garden hose
  • Manure fork


  • Washington State University Whatcom County Extension: Compost Benefits and Uses
  • The University of Illinois Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide"; Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin; 2008
  • The University of Illinois Extension: The Science of Composting
Keywords: hay for compost, compost pile, waste hay

About this Author

Regan Hennessy has been writing professionally for 11 years. A freelance copywriter and certified teacher, Hennessy specializes in the areas of parenting, health, education, agriculture and personal finance. During her time with Demand Studios, Hennessy has produced content for Ehow, Answerbag and Travels. Hennessy graduated from Lycoming College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.