How to Maintain a Compost Pile


Expert gardeners and compost aficionados know that maintaining a compost pile plays an important role in producing nutrient-heavy humus quickly and efficiently. Without maintenance, your compost heap may take as long as three years to provide mature compost, so schedule time to maintain your heap on a regular basis, generally at least once a week. Lighten the workload by building your pile using equal amounts of carbon-dense organic waste and nitrogen-dense organic waste to give the decomposing microorganisms the proper blend of energy and protein for more rapid decomposition.

Step 1

Allow your compost heap to sit without being disturbed for 7 to 8 days to give the composting microbes enough time to start breaking down the organic waste. Pick up a handful of the organic waste in your hand at the end of the waiting period and squeeze it tightly to constrict the materials; ideally, the waste should feel damp and you should be able to wring out no more than one or two drops of moisture, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension.

Step 2

Spray down your compost heap with extra water from your garden hose if it's too dry, adding enough moisture to make the waste as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Sprinkle extra carbon-based waste, such as sawdust or straw, over the compost heap if it's too moist. Check the moisture level once a week, mixing the pile each time you add extra carbon waste or extra water to ensure that it combines thoroughly with the pile materials.

Step 3

Gather the waste from the middle of your compost heap once a month, shifting it to the outside edges of the pile and replacing it with the waste located along the edges. Lift the organic waste scraps with a manure fork or garden rake, scooping and piling it loosely to promote oxygen flow between the particles of food waste.

Step 4

Add fresh organic waste to your compost heap as you collect it. Dig a hole in the center of the pile and insert any strong-smelling nitrogen-rich scraps--such as food or animal manure--that you've gathered. Cover the waste with several inches of carbon-rich materials to minimize smells that might attract rodent or insect pests.

Step 5

Monitor the decomposition process of your compost each time you turn the waste. Wait at least two months before looking for signs of finished compost, which include a fluffy texture, earthy odor and brown appearance, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension.

Tips and Warnings

  • Never compost pet manure since it may contain harmful pathogens that might infect humans after the compost process.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden hose
  • Carbon-rich waste
  • Manure fork/garden rake
  • Fresh carbon-rich organic waste (optional)
  • Fresh nitrogen-rich organic waste (optional)


  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: The Science of Composting
  • University of Illinois Cooperative Extension: Compost Benefits and Uses
Keywords: maintaining compost, compost piles, organic waste

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.