How to Create Compost


According to 2008 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over half of the waste Americans put out by their curbs on trash day consists of yard scraps, food waste and paper products. Rather than increase the waste your household sends to landfills, create compost from your organic yard, kitchen and household scraps. Create quality compost with a compost pile in your own backyard, but be sure you provide the right balance of the four main compost ingredients (nitrogen waste, carbon waste, water and air) to make your composting experience quicker and more enjoyable.

Step 1

Gather organic waste--lots of it. As you collect your composting materials, separate them into two piles. Put dry, brown, carbon-rich waste, such as dead leaves, straw, sticks, sawdust, newspaper and cardboard, in one pile. Collect moist, green, nitrogen-rich waste, such as cow manure, potato peels, banana peels, fresh grass clippings and coffee grounds in another heap. Shred or chop large, bulky pieces of waste into strips or chunks that measure no more than approximately 2 inches in diameter.

Step 2

Spread a 3-foot-by-3-foot, 3-to-4-inch-thick layer of carbon-based waste on the bare ground. Make sure your composting location gets several hours of daily sun and has well-draining soil to decrease composting time. Spray a gentle mist of water on the dry carbon material, dampening it thoroughly until it's about as moist as a wrung-out sponge, the ideal moisture level for rapid microbial activity, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. Add a 2-to-3-inch layer of waste from your high-nitrogen scrap pile, watering it to make it as damp as the carbon waste.

Step 3

Sprinkle several cups of plain topsoil or finished compost on top of the compost layers to help jump-start the microbial activity. Continue adding alternating carbon- and nitrogen-dense compost waste until your heap is between 3 and 5 feet tall. Don't forget to moisten each layer of waste as you add it to your heap.

Step 4

Aerate your compost as your schedule permits, making sure that you turn the layers at least once every four to five weeks. Shift the organic waste in the center of the pile to the edges with a garden fork or rake. Replace that waste with undecomposed waste from the edges of your heap.

Step 5

Squeeze a handful of waste when you turn the pile to ensure that it's still at the correct moisture level. If you're able to squeeze out more than two drops of liquid, then your heap is too wet; add extra carbon-based waste to soak up the extra moisture. Continue turning your compost heap regularly until it has decreased in size by approximately 50 percent; other signs of finished compost include an inoffensive, earthy smell and crumbly texture, according to Florida's Online Composting Center.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never use manure from meat-eating animals or pets in your compost heap, since it may contain pathogens that could infect humans.

Things You'll Need

  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Plain topsoil/finished compost
  • Garden fork or rake


  • US EPA: 2008 Municipal Solid Waste Facts and Figures (pdf)
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • Florida's Online Composting Center: When is Compost Ready?
Keywords: compost pile, making compost, easy compost

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.