How to Start a Compost Heap


Establishing a compost heap enables a homeowner to reap the direct results of recycling. Composting grass clippings, fallen leaves and table scraps creates better garden soil while reducing waste sent to landfill. Even small yards can accommodate a compost heap. With proper care, it will foster deterioration without mess or odors. Make room for this natural fertilizer factory, and watch your garden bloom.

Step 1

Choose a well-drained area in your yard, preferably one receiving mixed sun and shade, away from structures or fences. Drainage keeps effluence from the compost heap from flowing into other parts of the yard and reduces odor. Moisture keeps compost active, while hot, dry areas slow down bacterial decomposition. Placing a compost heap against wooden walls or fencing may cause rot.

Step 2

Place a wood or mesh-fence barrier around your compost heap if you want to keep the size from spreading or if you want it to be less visible. Once a heap is established, some gardeners shield it from view with bushes. If you do create a barrier, make certain it is still easy to add and remove compost.

Step 3

Build your heap in layers. Compost breakdown depends on reactions between sources of carbon and sources of nitrogen, so both dead leaves (carbon) and grass cuttings (nitrogen) are needed. Adding kitchen waste like vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and egg shells increases breakdown as well. Ideally, 3/5 clippings, 2/5 leaves and 1/5 other organic materials is a good goal to work toward.

Step 4

Add water and air to your compost heap regularly. Water the compost heap when you water your lawn and garden, or whenever it is clearly very dry. Burnish your recycling habits by dumping the cooking water from large amounts of corn, potatoes or pasta on the pile. Add the leftover iced tea or lemonade from the party instead of pouring it down the sink. Coffee grounds, eggshells and the soil from old houseplants are good for the compost heap.

Step 5

Turn your compost pile frequently with a pitchfork or aerating tool. Air enhances deterioration while diffusing odor. Breaking up large clumps of mowed grass, for example, lets them disintegrate without creating unpleasant smells.

Step 6

Remove the increasing bottom layer of rotted, soil-resembling compost from the bottom of your pile once a season and spread it over your garden beds. Add more layers, turn and water the pile, and enjoy the improvements you are making to your garden.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid adding any animal products except eggshells to your compost pile. Meat, fish, bones, and dairy products increase odor, may carry unhealthy organisms and draw vermin and larger wildlife. To keep your pile odor free, you may wish to restrict kitchen waste only to raw vegetables and fruits.

Things You'll Need

  • Well-drained area 3 feet x 3 feet
  • Mesh fencing or other barriers if desired
  • Lawn clippings
  • Leaves and other yard waste
  • Kitchen waste
  • Pitchfork or aerating tool
  • Water


  • University of Illinois Extension: Building Your Compost Pile
  • How to Compost: Composting: The Basics
Keywords: starting compost heap, compost heap, compost heap strategies, compost heap benefits

About this Author

Janet Beal holds a Harvard B.A. in English and a College of New Rochelle M.S in early childhood education. She has worked as a college textbook editor, HUD employee, caterer, and teacher. She is pleased to be part of Demand Studios' exciting community of writers and readers.