How to Keep a Compost Bin


Keeping a compost pile is an opportunity to recycle your yard and kitchen waste into a useful soil amendment. Rich in organic matter, compost adds needed nutrients to garden beds and potting soils when mixed in or used as mulch. Start your pile any time of year, though fall is especially suitable due to the amount of fallen leaves and other yard waste of the season. Composting requires little maintenance and you can solve most common problems quickly and easily.

Step 1

Choose a level area that is well-drained for your compost pile. Lay down a layer of branches or straw if soggy soil is an issue in the area you choose. You need a minimum of 3 feet by 3 feet and preferably 5 feet by 5 feet for a successful pile.

Step 2

Place an 8-inch layer of brown, carbon-rich yard waste in the pile--including dead leaves, wood chips and vegetable scraps. Place a 4-inch layer of green, nitrogen-rich yard waste on top of this--including grass clippings, green plant matter and coffee grounds.

Step 3

Sprinkle two shovelfuls of finished compost or a purchased compost starter on top of the pile. Mix the three layers together with a pitchfork.

Step 4

Continue layering brown waste, green waste and compost starter on the pile until it is approximately 3 to 4 feet tall. Add all the materials at once or add to the pile over time.

Step 5

Water the pile if it feels dry. Add enough water so that the pile feels moist but isn't soggy. Squeeze a handful of compost; if water drips out, there is too much moisture so add more dry material.

Step 6

Turn the compost regularly so that oxygen reaches all parts of the pile. Use a pitchfork to turn the outside of the pile to the inside. Turn at least once monthly, and more often if you desire finished compost sooner.

Step 7

Wait for the compost to heat up. Compost piles become warm to the touch when working properly, except for when they are frozen in winter. Add more green waste and check the pile moisture if the pile fails to heat.

Step 8

Use compost once all the organic matter has broken down to a rich-brown soil-like substance. Finished compost crumbles in your hand and has an earthy smell.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid composting meats, dairy and greasy foods. These break down too slowly and attract pests. Don't add diseased plants or weed seeds to the compost pile. The diseases and weeds may survive the composting process.

Things You'll Need

  • Branches or straw
  • Dead leaves, wood chips and vegetable scraps
  • Grass clippings, green plant matter and coffee grounds
  • Compost or compost starter
  • Shovel
  • Pitchfork
  • Water


  • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection: Guide to Home Composting
Keywords: home composting, build a compost pile, compost heap care

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.