Processes to Make a Compost Pit

Recycling is more than a fad---it's a lifestyle once you get into the swing of doing it. In addition to recycling cans, bottles, newspapers and junk mail, you can recycle much of your food scraps and kitchen waste, as well as yard trimmings, by building a simple compost pit, or compost pile. After the materials you have added decompose, they turn into nutrient-rich compost that you can use to fertilize your plants.

Choose a Method

Commercially available compost bins and tumblers make your job easy. With a purchased bin, you can start making compost right away. Or you can simply begin piling up your compost materials on the ground, or lash four wooden palettes together into a square and prop it upright. Another way to start your compost is to purchase about eight feet of heavy-gauge wire, or "hog wire," and loop it together to form a circular structure that will hold the food scraps and yard trimmings you'll soon be adding.

Start With Brown Material

Your compost pit will "cook" faster if you alternate layers of dry, crunchy brown plant material, such as fallen leaves, with fresh, green plant material, such as grass clippings and even non-seedy weeds. Examples of brown material include last summer's corn stalks (chop them up to speed the composting process), raked-up leaves from deciduous trees, any dead plant, straw or hay (especially good if it comes from a chicken coop) and other deceased plant materials. The brown layer provides carbon to your compost, and it helps keep your compost from smelling bad. Brown materials help to slow down the green materials' release of nitrogen. Include more brown materials than green materials.

Add a Layer of Green Material

Fresh, green plant material is what provides nitrogen to your compost. Included in the long list of suitable green materials are most vegetable scraps, melon rinds, eggshells, coffee grinds (including the filter), tea bags, grass clippings and fresh leaves, non-seedy weeds, composted manure of cows, sheep, rabbits and chickens (not pet waste), and hair.

Include Newspaper

Recycle the morning paper by tearing it into strips and adding it as a layer of brown material from time to time. Today's newspapers are printed with soy-based ink, so don't worry about chemicals getting into your compost pile. Avoid glossy magazine paper, however, and newspaper inserts printed on glossy paper.

Water Your Pile

If you don't get any rain between additions to your compost pile, sprinkle it for about 10 minutes after you add a layer of brown or green material. If it rains a lot where you live, you might want to cover your compost pile to prevent all the forming nutrients from leaking out onto the ground.

Turn Your Pile

If you can get into your compost pile with a pitchfork every couple of weeks, it will decompose into the rich, crumbly compost that you want faster than if you use the "passive" method and allow it to break down on its own. You needn't turn your pile, but it does speed up the process when you do.

Keywords: organic gardening, composting methods, carbon nitrogen

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hiā€˜iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, and She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.