How to Start a Compost Pile
The first step in creating a compost pile is to decide where you want to place it. It shouldn’t be too close to your home because you do not want to attract scavengers to your back door or smell the decomposition each time you step outside, but neither should it be so far away that you won’t use it.
You’ll also need to decide where you will work your compost. Handy homeowners will often opt to build a “cage” for their compost out of wooden staking and chicken wire, but if you don’t want to build your own container, there are numerous types of commercially made compost tumblers available for purchase. While tumblers are simple to use and compact, a freestanding pile can hold more material.
What You Should and Shouldn’t Add to a Compost Pile
The ideal compost heap will have an even mixture of brown and green ingredients. Items you should add to your compost heap include:
- Manure from animals that graze
- Chopped or whole vegetable and table scraps (chopped scraps will decompose faster)
- Shredded cardboard and paper
- Yard trimmings that are free from pesticides
- Hay or straw
Be careful not to add too many “wet” materials, like vegetable and fruit trimmings, to your compost pile, or it will start to stink. Alternately, if you have too many “dry” materials, like shredded paper or fallen leaves, it will take the pile much longer to decompose. A pile with an equal ratio of both elements will decompose the quickest and most efficiently.
At the same time, there are specific materials that you should never add to a compost pile. This list includes:
- Meat scraps
- Foods that are oily and/or greasy
- Manure from animals that eat meat
- Yard debris or grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides
How to Tend Your Compost Heap
Once you’ve prepared a space and an enclosure for your compost heap, you can begin heaping all of your materials right on the ground. Adding chunkier materials at the bottom, like small branches, will provide for decent airflow. Each time green materials are added to the pile, add some brown in too. This will create air pockets and ensure that an ideal moisture balance is maintained.
To get the composting process started, you can give your new compost heap a jump start. There are compost activators that can be purchased at local gardening and home improvement stores, but if you would prefer not to spend the money, simply adding a few shovelfuls of organic, enzyme-rich garden soil into the pile will work.
Caring for and maintaining a compost pile is not difficult, but a small investment of time and effort will make a significant difference. New materials should regularly be added to keep the microbes and bacteria satisfied. Routinely adding new elements will also provide insulation that keeps the process warm.
Use a compost aerator or a simple pitchfork to turn your pile once or twice a week to ensure that all of the ingredients are blended and working well together. After the pile has been turned, grab a handful of the compost to gauge how damp it is. If it is too wet, it will merely create a slimy mess. If there is not enough moisture, it will slow down, or even halt, the decomposition process.
Within a few months, you will be provided with rich, dark soil that is crumbly in texture and has an aroma of fresh earth.