How to Set Up a Large Compost Pile


Compost piles aren't for the faint of heart--or those with close neighbors. Typically, you should gather and arrange large amounts of organic waste into a compost heap only if you live in the country or--at the very least--have a large yard. However, even if you have a seemingly endless supply of organic waste to convert into nutrient-dense humus, you'll still want to limit the size of your compost pile. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, your compost pile should measure no more than 5 cubic feet to minimize your chances of encouraging smelly anaerobic decomposition.

Step 1

Place your composting location near your garden or in your backyard so it's more convenient to add compost waste to your heap. Make sure your chosen site has soil that drains well and gets at least three to five hours of sun each day. Don't position your compost pile along the edges of your property lines, especially if you live in a suburban area and have neighbors who could get offended by the sight of your exposed compost waste.

Step 2

Scoop away a 5-by-5-foot area of grass and sod from the ground that marks your compost site. Scrape away the grass roots with a shovel until you've completely exposed the bare soil. Cover the exposed soil with a 3- to 4-inch layer of carbon-rich organic waste, in the form of dry, brown materials, such as dead leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, wood chips and shredded cardboard.

Step 3

Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of nitrogen-rich organic waste on top of the carbon materials, opting for a mix of moist, green waste materials, such as fresh grass clippings, cow or horse manure, fruit peels and vegetable scraps. Shred or chop any large chunks of the waste into smaller pieces to maximize air flow in your compost heap. Dampen the layers of waste with a light, gentle spray from your garden hose, adding moisture until the organic waste is about as wet as a wrung-out sponge.

Step 4

Toss several trowels full of plain topsoil atop the green nitrogen-rich waste to boost the microbial activity. Add another layer of brown waste, followed by a second layer of green materials. Repeat these alternating layers of organic waste, building up your compost pile until its height matches its width. Allow your compost heap to decompose undisturbed for up to four weeks.

Step 5

Mix the materials together with a manure fork once monthly to produce finished compost in approximately six months. Check the compost moisture level each time you mix it, adding extra water, if necessary, to keep the compost as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never put manure from meat-eating animals, such as pigs or pets, on your compost heap; it may contain pathogens that could survive the composting process and infect human beings.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Carbon-rich organic waste
  • Nitrogen-rich organic waste
  • Garden hose
  • Trowel
  • Plain topsoil
  • Manure fork


  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • Purdue University Cooperative Extension: Managing Yard Wastes: Clippings and Compost
  • "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide;" Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin; 2008
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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.