How to Make a Compost Pile for Free


Making compost from your kitchen and garden wastes returns them to the soil, improving its texture and adding valuable nutrients. Mixing a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost with the existing soil in your garden improves drainage and increases aeration. Nutrients release slowly, providing the food that your flowers and vegetables need to thrive. You don't need expensive compost barrel or bins to make your own compost. You can begin with a simple compost pile on top of the soil.

Step 1

Select an area for your compost pile that receives partial sun. An area near the garden is preferred as it provides easy access for both adding plant material and using completed compost.

Step 2

Allow room for the pile to spread. A typical compost pile reaches a height of 3 feet and spreads to an area of 3 to 5 feet.

Step 3

Look for a level area that is well-drained. If water remains in the area after rains or in early spring, the area is not suitable.

Step 4

Layer the bottom of the pile with a 6- to 8-inch layer of both carbon (dry) and nitrogen (wet) kitchen or yard scraps. Dry ingredients include dried leaves, straw, shredded branches and pine needles. Wet ingredients include fresh grass clippings, vegetable peels, coffee grounds and egg shells. Keep a ratio of five parts dry ingredients to one to two parts wet.

Step 5

Water to moisten the pile.

Step 6

Add a compost starter. Following the application rate on the container, sprinkle 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer over the pile, or add a 1- to 2-inch layer of animal manure to the pile. This initiates the decomposition process.

Step 7

Cover with a 2- to 3-inch layer of garden soil.

Step 8

Add as many layers as preferred, following the same procedure.

Step 9

Allow compost to set. As it begins to break down, the internal temperature rises. After two to three weeks, the temperature drops.

Step 10

Turn the pile with a garden fork once the temperature decreases. Turn the outside material into the center of the pile and work until all material has been turned.

Step 11

Water to moisten the compost pile whenever it becomes dry. Compost should be damp but not soggy.

Things You'll Need

  • Dry ingredients (leaves, straw)
  • Wet ingredients (fresh plant material)
  • Compost starter/10-10-10 fertilizer/manure
  • Garden fork


  • Univeristy of Illinois Extension:Composting for the Homeowner

Who Can Help

  • Journey to Forever: Making Compost
Keywords: compost pile, compost bin, make compost

About this Author

Nannette Richford is an avid gardener, teacher and nature enthusiast with 4 years experience in online writing and a lifetime of personal journals. She is published on various sites, including Associated Content. Richford holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education from the University of Maine Orono and certifications in 7-12 English, K-8 General Elementary and Birth to age 5.