How to Start to Compost

Overview

Every garden can benefit from compost made in a pile or container. To be rich and fertile, soil needs to be fed with decomposed organic matter that will add nutrients and improve texture. Making compost also benefits the environment by reducing wastes transported to landfills. In the United States, roughly 20 percent of all garbage shipped to landfills consists of yard waste and lawn clippings. Getting your own compost pile started is a simple and sensible solution to this problem.

Step 1

Select a good location for your compost pile. The ideal spot should be close to the house and garden, but hidden from view, perhaps behind some shrubs or the shed. You will need a site that is at least 5 feet square. Clear away debris from the site and place your composting materials close by. Try to have enough material on hand to make pile of 1 cubic yard. This is approximately 5 by 5 feet at the base by 3 feet high.

Step 2

Mix two parts straw or hay with one part grass clippings, using the garden fork, to start the pile. Straw and hay give the pile bulk and you can use or substitute materials such as wood chips, sawdust or corn stalks. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen and provide energy. Other energy materials include yard clippings, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable waste.

Step 3

Check the moisture content by squeezing some the mixed material in your hand. If completely dry, add a little water and continue mixing. The pile should be just damp but not wet. Continue adding bulk and energy materials to the pile, mixing as you go, and adding water as needed until the pile is the right size.

Step 4

Turn the pile once a week with the garden fork. The goal is to get air into the middle of the pile and move the outer material to the center. Add water sparingly as needed. Add in other raw materials as the pile composts. These can include dry leaves and chopped tree or shrub trimmings.

Step 5

Continue weekly turning and watering until the pile has turned into a dark brown material that crumbles easily in your hand. This usually takes at least eight weeks for good-sized pile. The compost is now ready to use. Add it to your flower beds and vegetable garden as needed.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Garden fork
  • Grass clippings
  • Straw or hay
  • Dry leaves
  • Garden hose

References

  • North Carolina State University Extension: Composting: A Guide to Managing Organic Yard Wastes
  • Washington State University Extension: Backyard Composting: How to Make Compost
Keywords: start compost, how to compost, start composting

About this Author

Based in Surrey, British Columbia, Stephen Oakley is a freelance writer focusing on environmental issues, travel and all things outdoors. His background includes many years spent working in the Canadian wilderness and traveling worldwide.