How to Start a Compost at Home


A home compost pile will yield rich soil amendments for the garden or landscape. It is also a way to recycle at home. Bins can be purchased or constructed to hold the pile, or you can make a compost pile bin with chicken wire and corner posts.

Step 1

Schedule your composting to begin in the fall. Although it can be started any time of the year, fallen leaves (to provide carbon) are usually abundant in the fall, along with nitrogen-producing clippings from cool-season lawns.

Step 2

Choose a dirt area that is level, has good drainage, is away from pets, not in the full sun or under a tree, away from buildings and in a convenient location. For a manageable compost pile, keep it between 3 to 5 feet square.

Step 3

Hammer the stakes into the ground to create the corners for a 3-foot square bin.

Step 4

Wrap the chicken wire around the stakes, forming the sides of the bin. Connect the two ends of the 12-foot roll of chicken wire, and secure with wire. Secure the chicken wire at the stakes, using the wire.

Step 5

Cover the floor of the bin with a layer of leaves, lawn clippings or straw.

Step 6

Add an even layer of about 5 inches of organic materials over the first layer. This can include vegetable clippings, grass clippings, coffee grinds, eggshells, straw, hay, chopped-up corncobs, small twigs and garden debris. Small pieces will decompose quickly.

Step 7

Add an even layer of manure (from a grain-eating animal, such as a cow or horse) to the pile, about 1 to 2 inches high. If manure is not available, add commercial fertilizer to the pile, at a ratio of 1 cup per 25 square feet. Use 10-10-10 or 12-12-12.

Step 8

Cover the manure or fertilizer layer with 1 to 2 inches of garden soil.

Step 9

Sprinkle the pile lightly with water from a garden hose to keep moist, but not soggy.

Step 10

Add more layers as you acquire the material and turn the pile once a month, using a pitchfork.

Tips and Warnings

  • Before starting a compost pile at home, it is a good idea to check for local ordinances that would prevent you from establishing a compost pile or one that might dictate where the compost pile must be located. Don't add meat, bones or fat to compost as it will attract pests.

Things You'll Need

  • Mallet
  • 4 3-foot states
  • 12 feet of 3-foot chicken wire
  • Wire
  • Leaves, straw or garden trimming
  • Organic material
  • Manure or fertilizer
  • Garden soil
  • Garden hose
  • Pitch fork


  • University of Illinois Extension; Building Your Compost Pile
  • WSU Cooperative Extension ; A Guide to Composting Horse Manure; Jessica Paige
Keywords: compost pile, home compost pile, compost recycling

About this Author

Ann Johnson was the editor of a community magazine in Southern California for more than 10 years and was an active real estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelors of Art degree in communications from California State University of Fullerton. Today she is a freelance writer and photographer, and part owner of an Arizona real estate company.