How to Start a Compost Pile

Spring is the ideal time to start a compost pile. By starting one now, there is enough time for the materials to decompose and be added to the garden/yard in the fall. This lets the soil absorb the nutrients until it gets warmer again and benefit your plants. Compost piles also break down faster in warmer weather. There are many ways to set one up, from using a specialized bin or setting apart a section of the yard with hardware cloth, but it doesn’t affect the quality of the compost. (If you want detailed help setting up, check this out.) Here’s how you can start and maintain a successful compost pile.

Balance Green and Brown Materials

Remember that a healthy compost pile needs nitrogen, carbon, water, and air. To give your compost ample amounts of nitrogen and carbon, there are two different kinds of materials you need: green and brown. Green materials will provide the nitrogen and brown materials will provide the carbon. 

For green materials, add items such as:

  • Vegetable and fruit waste
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Paper tea bags
  • Grass clippings

Brown materials are:

  • Straw
  • Shrub trimmings
  • Branches

Having a balance of both green and brown materials in your compost will create the best environment for decomposition. Unbalance will affect the materials’ ability to break down. If you notice an unpleasant smell coming from the pile, add more brown materials. Feel free to mix soil with your compost if you desire. You will know it’s breaking down well if you start seeing earthworms.

Image Source: Pixabay

Maintain Weekly

Compost piles need weekly maintenance, especially in the beginning. To make sure your compost is getting enough air, stir it every week. This will mix the materials around and expose the previously buried materials to more oxygen. Also, don’t let the pile get too dry. Water helps with decomposition too—just don’t soak it if you notice it getting dry. A little sprinkling will suffice.

Some of your neighborhood animals, whether domestic or not, may be attracted to the smells coming from your compost pile. One of the best ways to keep them out is not to add materials such as meat and dairy products. The weekly mixing will also tame the desirable smells from reaching them. It will also help your compost to break down faster if you chop your materials into small pieces before adding them to the pile. They won’t be sitting as long for an animal to snatch up, and your compost will be ready sooner.

Monitor for Readiness

Remember that it takes months for your compost pile to be ready for use. Six months is the average time. You will know your compost is ready to use when it becomes dark brown and crumbly. When you break apart some of the pieces, it should collapse into smaller pieces. It doesn’t need to be minuscule, powdery pieces, larger ones work just as well. You also shouldn’t be able to recognize any of the materials that were added (except some wood pieces because they take longer to decompose), and there shouldn’t be any mold. When your compost looks ready to use, wait an additional three weeks before you use it. Then it will be ready to add its nutrients to your garden and yard’s soil.

Source Image: Pixabay

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Lacey Jolley

I love exploring, experiencing new places, and eating good food! I'm amazed every day at how well the Earth provides for us, and I want to return the favor. I hope to help others learn how we can make our world a better, cleaner place.

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