Making a good pile of compost is not difficult and the benefits gained make the effort more than worthwhile. Well-aged compost is loaded with nutrients and microorganisms that enrich the soil and improve its texture. Starting your own compost pile also reduces the huge amount of yard waste that ends up in landfills across North America every year. It is estimated that lawn clippings, pruned cuttings and other organic material represent 20 percent of all landfill waste. Home composting is an easy way to improve your soil and the environment at large.
Choose a level location that is out of view, but preferably not too far from your house. You will be adding material to the pile often so having it close by saves time and effort. To start a good compost heap you should have roughly 1 cubic yard of material. Two-thirds of this should be bulking materials such as straw or hay. But you can also use wood chips, sawdust or chopped up corn stalks. Clear the site down to the bare earth and give yourself some room to pile the compost ingredients.
Mix two parts bulking materials with one part grass clippings to start your pile. Use the garden fork to blend a small amount together. The grass clippings are called energy materials because they are high in nitrogen and will decompose quickly in a good pile. You can also provide energy with other yard clippings, fruit and vegetable waste from the kitchen and coffee grounds.
Squeeze a handful of the starter material to check for moisture. Add a little water if the mix is dry. The goal is to keep the pile damp but not soggy. Too much water will cause the wrong type of decomposition and the pile may develop a foul smell. Keep adding and mixing the material together until the pile has reached the target size. Remember to check the water content periodically as you build.
Turn the pile each week by moving the outer material to the middle. This also brings air into the pile which is essential for good decomposition. During the first two weeks, you can add in small amounts of dry leaves, twigs or other yard trimmings when you turn the pile. The decomposition process will be faster if everything that goes into the pile is finely chopped up. Keep the pile moist but only add water as needed. You can cover the pile with a tarp on rainy days to keep excess water out.
Continue the weekly maintenance and check the texture of the pile after about eight weeks. When the pile is a crumbly, dark brown material it means the compost is ready to use. Mix it lightly into the soil anywhere in your garden. Then it's time to start a new pile.