How to Make a Backyard Compost Pit


A backyard compost pit is a heap of garden and kitchen waste that is allowed to heat up and decompose. The decomposed material is nutrient-rich soil called compost. The elements needed for decomposition are kitchen, garden and household waste materials, oxygen and water. The waste materials are commonly referred to as "greens" for their nitrogen content or "browns" for their carbon content. Greens include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee and tea grounds and green leaves. Browns include dry leaves and grass, shredded newspapers and household paper, sawdust and straw. Start your compost pile with 50 percent browns and 50 percent greens. The Maryland State Department of Environment recommends that you locate the compost pit near a water source and away from buildings or wooden fences.

Step 1

Dig a 10- to 15-inch-deep pit that is 3- to 5-feet square. Creating a pit ensures that worms in the soil will find the compost pile. Worms that help decompose the waste materials are called red wrigglers or redworms.

Step 2

Spread an even layer of brown materials 4 inches thick in the bottom of the compost pit. The carbon materials take longer to decompose than the greens.

Step 3

Water the brown layer so it is moist but not wringing wet. Each layer should be moistened as you build the pile or add to it.

Step 4

Add a 4-inch layer of green materials, such as grass clippings and kitchen scraps. Spread this over the brown layer rather than mixing it in.

Step 5

Water the green layer so it is moist but not wringing wet.

Step 6

Repeat steps 2 through 5 as needed to build a 5-foot pile. A compost pile can be built all at one time or as the materials become available.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not add butter, cooking oil, pet manure, meat products or dairy products to the compost pile. Keep the compost pit aerated. Oxygen is the fuel the microbes use to break down the waste products. It can be aerated by occasionally lifting a top layer and letting the materials fall off the shovel back into the pile.

Things You'll Need

  • Kitchen and yard waste materials
  • Shovel
  • Water supply


  • Maryland State Department of the Environment: Building Your Own Compost Pile

Who Can Help

  • L.A. County Department of Public Works: Water-wise Gardening
Keywords: make compost pile, compost pit, how to compost

About this Author

Joan Norton, M.A., is a licensed psychotherapist and professional writer in the field of women's spirituality. She blogs and has two published books on the subject of Mary Magdalene; "14 Steps To Awaken The Sacred Feminine:Women in the Circle of Mary Magdalene," and "The Mary Magdalene Within."