Factors Affecting Composting

A compost pile is designed to encourage microbes that naturally occur in the soil to consume organic matter, such as leaves and grass, and convert it to compost. Once the organic matter is broken down to a moist, soil-like consistency, it can be placed over a garden to add nutrients to the soil. A healthy or active compost pile contains both green and brown plant material.


Start a compost pile when the weather is warm. Microbial action will slow down in cooler weather and completely stop in freezing temperatures. If you live in a cool climate, cover the compost pile with a tarp or thick piece of plastic to keep it warm.

Turning the Pile

Microbes that break down the organic matter in a compost pile need oxygen to work. Turning the compost pile with a garden fork or shovel will keep the pile oxygenated and healthy.

Moisture Level

The microbes that break down the plant material need moisture to thrive. Too much moisture will kill the microbes and make the compost pile rot and smell bad. Rotting is not the same as composting.

Size of Plant Material

The plant material added to the compost pile should be as small as possible. Break up larger pieces of plant material to accelerate the composting process.


The balance of brown or carbon-rich material, such as dead leaves and branches, and green material, such as grass or fresh vegetable scraps, should be three parts brown to one part green. The material should be mixed well.

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About this Author

Based in Rockdale Texas, Jim Gober has been writing garden-related articles for 25 years. His articles appear in several Texas newspapers including The Rockdale Reporter, The Lexington Leader, The Cameron Herald and The Hearne Democrat. He is a Master Gardener and Certified Texas Nursery and Landscape Professional. He holds bachelor degrees in English Writing from St. Edward's University and Finance from Lamar University.