How to Build a Compost Pile


Building a compost pile in your backyard saves you the hassle of disposing of your fallen leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste. Composting turns this unwanted debris into a rich soil for use in garden beds as an amendment and a mulch. Compost can also be used in potting soil for indoor and outdoor container plants. Composting is not difficult and it requires little effort. Most compost piles produce usable compost within two months if you turn them often, or a year if you build it then forget about it.

Step 1

Site your compost pile in an area that doesn't collect water during rain and snow melt and is fairly level. Plan to use at least 3 to 5 square feet of space for your compost pile.

Step 2

Lay down a 5-inch layer of carbon-rich waste materials---this includes dead leaves, sawdust and wood chips. Lay a 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings, green plant material and kitchen waste on top this.

Step 3

Mix these two layers together using a garden fork or shovel. Mix in grass clippings well, otherwise they tend to clump together and slow down the composting process.

Step 4

Spread one or two shovels-full of animal manure or apply a commercial compost starter following label instructions on top of the organic matter. If none are available, spread one cup of 10-10-10 garden fertilizer on the pile. This helps the pile heat up and compost the organic matter more quickly.

Step 5

Spread a shovel-full of mature compost or top soil on top the pile. This introduces the microbes necessary to break down the material in the compost pile.

Step 6

Continue layering organic matter, manure and top soil in the pile until it is approximately 3 to 5 feet tall. Turn the pile to mix all the layers together.

Step 7

Turn the pile with the garden fork weekly to produce usable compost as soon as two months after starting the pile. Turn less frequently or not at all for usable compost within a year.

Tips and Warnings

  • If the pile is not heating up and temperatures are above freezing, check the balance of nitrogen and carbon in the pile. The ratio should be 2 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen materials. Adjust the balance and turn the pile to encourage microbial work. If the pile begins to dry out water it with a hose. The microbes necessary for composting can't live in a dry environment.

Things You'll Need

  • Yard waste
  • Kitchen waste
  • Garden fork
  • Animal manure
  • Compost starter
  • 10-10-10 fertilizer
  • Mature compost
  • Top soil


  • University of Illinois Extension
Keywords: compost pile, composting method, soil amendment

About this Author

Jenny Harrington is a freelance writer of more than five years' experience. Her work has appeared in "Dollar Stretcher" and various blogs. Previously, she owned her own business for four years, selling handmade items online, wholesale and via the crafts fair circuit. Her specialties are small business, crafting, decorating and gardening.