How to Make Compost Beds

Overview

Gardeners and homeowners frustrated with failed attempts to plant in poor soil often opt for compost beds to create a nutrient-rich, raised area for planting and growing both vegetables and flowers. According to Patricia Lanza, author of "Lasagna Gardening," the process of making compost beds typically takes at least six months, so you'll most likely want to plan and set up your compost beds during the early fall months. This allows the materials in your compost beds enough time to decompose completely before the time comes for you to plant your spring seeds.

Step 1

Gather a wide variety of organic waste for building your compost beds. Try to collect 25 to 50 percent of your organic waste volume in the form of nitrogen-rich materials, such as fresh grass clippings, cow manure, coffee grounds, fruit scraps and vegetable peelings. The remainder of your organic waste should be rich in carbon, including prime sources such as straw, old hay, sawdust, dead leaves and wood chips.

Step 2

Choose your compost bed location, opting for a sunny, well-draining site, if possible. Mark the corners of the compost bed with wooden stakes, making sure the bed measures between 3 and 5 feet wide; the length of your bed can vary, but should ideally be no less than 3 feet. Cover the ground within each compost bed with a thick bed of newspaper (three to five sheets thick) or flattened cardboard boxes. Overlap the edges of the newspaper or cardboard to ensure that weeds and grass can't grow up into your compost beds.

Step 3

Dampen the layer of cardboard or newspaper with your garden hose. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of carbon-rich organic waste across the base newspaper layer in the compost bed. Moisten the carbon-rich waste with a misting of water, and top it with a 2- to 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich organic waste. Sprinkle several handfuls of plain topsoil or finished compost across the nitrogen-rich waste to introduce additional bacteria to your compost bed.

Step 4

Mist down the compost bed with additional water, until it is about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Continue adding alternating layers of carbon- and nitrogen-high organic waste until the compost bed measures approximately 30 to 36 inches high. End with a carbon-rich layer of composting waste to reduce your chances of attracting insect pests, such as flies.

Step 5

Leave the compost bed to sit undisturbed for at least six months to allow the organic waste to decompose. Check the bed to ensure that it is becoming dark brown, crumbly humus. Plant seeds or started seedlings in the finished compost layers just as you would in regular garden soil.

Things You'll Need

  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Wooden stakes
  • Hammer
  • Newspaper or flattened cardboard boxes
  • Plain topsoil or finished compost
  • 1-by-12-inch boards (optional)

References

  • Oregon State University: Sheet Mulch--Lasagna Composting (pdf)
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Materials for Composting
  • "Secrets to Great Soil"; Elizabeth Stell; 1998
  • "Lasagna Gardening"; Patricia Lanza; 1998
Keywords: compost garden, building compost beds, composting

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.