Composting Made Easy

Overview

Composting turns waste materials--grass clippings, dried leaves, vegetable peelings and coffee grounds--into rich soil amendments that add vital nutrients to your garden. Instead of bagging up these materials to be hauled to the dump, you can make a compost pile in your backyard. Composting is a low-maintenance hobby that doesn't require a lot of time or space but can reward you with a healthier garden. You can purchase a ready-made compost bin or build a simple one of your own.

Step 1

Drive four stakes or fence posts into the ground with the mallet to form a 4-foot square. This size bin will handle the waste most households produce. If you have a large family or yard, or livestock such as chickens or horses, you may want a larger compost bin.

Step 2

Staple chicken wire to the posts to form three sides of a cube. The chicken wire holds the waste in while allowing plenty of air to circulate and water to drain. You can use almost any kind of wire, including leftover chain link fencing.

Step 3

Layer leaves and grass clipping on the bottom of the cube. According to Michigan State University horticulturalists, different types of material have different ratios of carbon to nitrogen. High-nitrogen materials speed decomposition. Leaves have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of about 60 to 1, while grass clippings contain a ration of 20 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Combining the two balances the compost pile and helps achieve the 30-to-1 ratio MSU horticulturalists have identified as ideal.

Step 4

Add a layer of kitchen waste. Most kitchen wastes have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of about 15 to 1, according to MSU. As you mix them into the pile, the microorganisms that convert waste to compost will break them down quickly.

Step 5

Continue to add vegetable peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds and other organic waste to your pile, along with yard trimmings.

Step 6

Turn the pile with a pitchfork every two weeks. This allows air into the pile, which speeds decomposition.

Step 7

Build a new pile when the first cube is full. Continue to turn and water the first pile until most of the material in the pile has been transformed to dark, crumbly compost.

Step 8

Water the pile once a month if it seems dry. Water with a hose until the pile is damp but not soggy. The microorganisms responsible for decomposition work fastest in warm, moist conditions.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid getting the pile too wet. If it becomes soggy, add leaves, grass or even shredded newspaper to absorb the excess moisture. Don't add dog wastes, meat or fat to the pile.

Things You'll Need

  • 4 stakes or wooden fence posts
  • Mallet
  • Chicken wire
  • Fence staples
  • Leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Kitchen waste
  • Pitchfork
  • Water

References

  • Michigan State University: Composting

Who Can Help

  • University of Missouri Extension: How to Build a Compost Bin
Keywords: compost bin, making compost, compost pile

About this Author

Cynthia Myers is the author of more than 40 novels and her nonfiction work has appeared in publications ranging from "Historic Traveler" to "Texas Highways" to "Medical Practice Management." She has a degree in economics from Sam Houston State University. Before turning to freelancing full time, Myers worked as a newspaper reporter, travel agent and medical clinic manager.