How to Set Up Your Own Compost Pile


Setting up a compost pile creates rich soil that can be reused in your flower beds and garden. The soil takes about a year to create, and can be made from common items such as grass clippings, potato peelings and even newspaper. The soil is a way to recycle garden and household waste, and create a soil full of organic nutrients. Compost piles can be created in a backyard following a few steps.

Step 1

Choose an area to build your compost pile. Do not build immediately next to structures such as a house or fence. Check with your local city or county ordinance if the compost area must be a certain distance from the lot line. Pick an area that will drain will, and where water will not sit and pool. Avoid building next to trees. Only build a loose foundation using bricks and cement block if trees are nearby. Select an area that has about half a day of sunshine daily, if possible. A water source should be nearby.

Step 2

Build the compost in the fall; the season has both brown and green materials available. Use brown materials, nitrogen, such as fallen leaves, twigs and branches. Green, carbon, materials include grass clipping, fruits and vegetables, coffee grinds, newspaper, sawdust and yard trimmings. Do not include diseased plants, meat or fish leftovers, pet feces, black walnut tree leaves or twigs, coal. Avoid adding yard trimmings and clippings treated with insecticide.

Step 3

Create a space no smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet and no larger than 5 feet by 5 feet, suggests the University of Illinois. Building the pile directly on the earth is recommended. Start by layering organic materials in small amounts. Use vegetables, grass clippings, small twigs and other garden trimmings. The layer should be 6 to 8 inches thick. Items that clump together, such as grass, should be layered in 2 to 3 inch segments within the organic layer. Slightly water so the layer is moist.

Step 4

Use a nitrogen source such as animal manure, fertilizer or commercially sold compost starters. Layer approximately 1 to 2 inches. Add an additional 1 to 2 inches of topsoil or compost to add the necessary microbes and activate the compost process. Water the layers until lightly moist.

Step 5

Use a compost thermometer to measure the pile's heat. Monitor the pile to indicate when the compost is ready to turn. Always turn piles if the temperature dips below 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a large pitch fork to turn and mix the ingredients---mixing aerates the pile and the ingredients in the mix.

Step 6

Add ingredients to the pile as they become available. Always balance the compost ingredients so the pile is equally made of nitrogen and carbon. Turning, lightly watering and reading the temperature are important to accurate composting.

Things You'll Need

  • Brown material: autumn leaves, twigs, branches
  • Green material: fruits, vegetables, grass clippings
  • Compost thermometer
  • Pitch fork


  • The Environment Protection Agency
  • University of Illionois: Composting for the Homeowner
  • Mr. Grow
Keywords: nitrogen, rich soil, organic

About this Author

Julie Hampton has worked as a professional freelance writer since 1999 for various newspapers and websites including "The Florida Sun" and "Pensacola News Journal." She served in the U.S. Army as a combat medic and nurse for over six years and recently worked as the Community Relations Director for a health center. Hampton studied journalism and communications at the University of West Florida.