How to Build a Compost Heap


Building a compost heap involves using ratios of waste materials you probably already have around the house. Compost starters are available from garden centers as well, but unless you are in a big hurry to get usable compost, they are not necessary. Composting in a heap is a slow process but one that can continue to yield beneficial results for as long as you are willing to maintain it. If you find that composting in a heap is too inconvenient or is attracting too many pests, you may consider using a compost bin instead.

Step 1

Choose an optimal location for your compost heap; something close to your garden that is shaded by a tree but receiving sunlight is optimal. If you will have to cart compost from your heap to your garden, choose a location uphill from the garden for ease of transport. Start your pile over soil, not over concrete or asphalt. According to the University of Illinois extension, concrete and asphalt prevent the necessary microbes from breaking down your compost pile.

Step 2

Lay down a 3-inch layer of straw or spoiled hay to start your pile. Make the pile as broad as you like.

Step 3

Layer green and brown materials in equal amounts on top of the straw. Green and brown do not refer to color; rather, they refer respectively to nitrogen and carbon content of ingredients. Simply put, kitchen scraps such as eggshells and vegetable peels are considered green, or high in nitrogen. Grass clippings are another good example. Dried leaves, twigs, hay, newspapers, and paper bags are all considered brown, or high in carbon. A successful compost pile has roughly equal amounts of both types of ingredients in it.

Step 4

Pile topsoil on top of the compost heap. This will help the heap to build and retain heat as microbes break down the contents. It will also help to deter pests.

Step 5

Secure a black plastic tarp over the top of the compost heap. In addition to deterring pests, this will also help to trap and retain heat from the sun, which will break down your compost more quickly.

Step 6

Add whatever organic matter you have available to the compost heap whenever you have it. Dig the new ingredients into the center of the pile to add them, and cover them back up after adding.

Step 7

Turn the compost pile once a week in order to keep anaerobic bacteria from forming. Compost piles are aerobic, meaning that they need oxygen in order to efficiently break down their components. Anaerobic bacteria begin to feed and produce nasty odors when compost piles sit still too long and do not get enough air.

Tips and Warnings

  • Compost heaps do not always need additional water. However, if it is too dry, the compost will not decompose efficiently. Use your garden hose to give it water sparingly if you notice that the mixture seems very dry when you are turning it. Compost heaps are not for everyone. If raccoons or other animal pests are a common nuisance in your area, consider making or buying a compost bin instead. A compost bin works on the same principles as a heap, but the compost is fully enclosed. This helps deter pests and also helps enclose any odors that may develop if you do not turn your compost often enough. Tumbling compost bins do all of the above and have mechanisms that allow you to turn the compost very easily, often just by turning a crank.

Things You'll Need

  • Straw
  • Spoiled hay
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves (both green and dried)
  • Kitchen scraps
  • Newspapers
  • Paper bags
  • Twigs and branches
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea leaves and bags
  • Pitchfork
  • Shovel
  • Topsoil
  • Black plastic tarp
  • Garden hose


  • University of Illinois Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
  • Composting Instructions: Ultimate One Page Guide to Composting
  • Composting Instructions: What You Can and Cannot Compost
Keywords: build compost heap, construct compost heap, green brown composting

About this Author

Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker, and writer. In addition to cooking and baking for a living, Chuasiriporn has written for several online publications. These include Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty, and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.