Ann Csongei - May 01 2021

How to Start a Compost Pile

Compost happens—if you would just start a pile


any people are intimidated to try composting because they’ve read complicated instructions about layering and adding lime or urea and….fagetaboutit! You can get more scientific after you’ve mastered the basics. This post is intended to help the intimidated would-be composter get started.

You already know WHY you should compost. Let’s look at the basics of HOW to compost:

Four basic steps of composting

Start a pile using food scraps, plant cuttings, leaves, and other natural materials.

Keep a balanced ratio of carbon/nitrogen, or more simply, brown stuff versus green stuff.

Maintain the proper size pile. You don't want it to be too big or too small.

Turn it occasionally, but not too often, using a pitch fork or garden fork.

Getting started

Start your pile where it can get some sun and rain. But do not put it directly against a house or shed, as it can cause a wood structure to rot. Remove the grass from your chosen location so your pile is in direct contact with the soil. There are microbes in the soil that are essential to the composting process--the breaking down of the material you put in the pile. You can even throw a shovel full of soil on top of your new pile to kick start the microbial population.

Pile it on

There are various methods you can use, from simply starting a pile, to purchased bins, to constructed multiple bins systems. Any of these will work. Enclosed bins are useful in smaller yards or for those who don't have the tools or physical ability to turn the compost pile. The "three-bin system" is useful for those who have a lot of material to compost, as it allows you to have three piles at multiple stages of their composting process. For most of us, a simple pile is just fine.

A manufactured compost bin (Left) and a multiple-bin system constructed from shipping pallets (right).


It is important to maintain a proper balance of carbon and nitrogen in your compost pile. Materials that are green in color or wet/juicy are a source of nitrogen and are considered “green.” Dry, old, or woody plant materials, paper, and cardboard are sources of carbon and are considered “brown”.

Technical guides dictate a 30:1 green-to-brown ratio by weight. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t a clue how much my kitchen scraps weigh, as opposed to my dried leaves. Go by volume instead. Generally speaking, you want about 2/3 brown material and 1/3 green material by volume.

This compost pile has roughly the desired ratio of 2/3 brown material to 1/3 green material.

Most any natural material can be composted.

Food scraps and yard waste are well known "feed stocks" for compost. Chop yard waste and large food scraps like watermelon rinds or broccoli stems into smaller pieces. It will break down faster because you are increasing the surface area upon which microbes feed.

Food scraps are plentiful year round. An Autumn leaf pile can be ready to use in the Spring

Grass clippings certainly can be composted, however they are easily compacted preventing oxygen from getting into the clippings, which will cause them to rot instead of breaking down. A better use for grass clippings is to leave them on the lawn. As the clippings decay they stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms, loosen heavy clay soils to allow better root penetration, improve the capacity to hold water and nutrients-- particularly in sandy soils, and add essential nutrients.

Consider these other commonly available sources:

Shredded paper that isn't glossy or covered in ink, such as junk mail or confidential papers that you'd rather avoid putting in the recycle bin.

Dog hair. I am left with quite a pile of hair after combing my dog! Human hair is usable too.

Paper towels and facial tissues are a good "brown" feed stock, especially during summer months when brown material is harder to come by.

Egg shells, but not the eggs themselves—See below.

Coffee grounds and tea bags (I like to remove the staple first, if present.)

Dryer lint. Yep!

What NOT to Compost

Pet poop is a no-no! Horse and cow manure is fine, but our pets’ feces can contain harmful bacteria. The same is true for human waste, so leave that to the professional composters who know how to safely recycle biosolids

Fatty foods such as dairy products, eggs, and peanut butter get putrid and attract rodents. 

Cooked foods that contain fats and oils should not be composted. Foods cooked without oil, such as steamed vegetables are fine.

Diseased plants and noxious weeds should be avoided. A properly maintained compost pile will kill diseases pathogens and weed seeds through high heat, but beginners would be wise to eliminate the risk of reintroducing them to the garden.

Size Matters

Keep your compost pile no smaller than three feet high/wide and no larger than five feet high/wide. Any smaller, and it will be difficult to generate sufficient heat needed to kill pathogens and hasten decomposition. Any larger, and you’re likely to starve the center of the pile of oxygen, causing it to rot instead of decompose through microbial activity.

Turn Up the Heat

Heat is generated from microbial activity, and microbial activity is what breaks down the feed stock into usable compost. Therefore, temperature is an important indicator of whether the composting process is happening. Temperature probes are commonly available. A properly made pile should reach 104-122ºF (40-50ºC) within a few days, and then begin to drop as compostable material is depleted. To kill pathogens and weed seeds a pile must reach 140ºF, but these high temperatures can also kill beneficial microbes. If your pile gets any hotter, turn it to allow the heat to escape.

"Working" the Compost Pile

After the first three or four weeks, you’ll see that the pile has diminished in size. Turn the pile by using a garden fork so that material that had been on the outside of the heap is now in the center and vice versa. You should do this two or three more times before it is finished. You can speed up decomposition by turning it more often. You do not need to turn your pile daily, or even weekly. If you turn it too often, the pile will not generate sufficient heat. Check the internal temperature of the pile regularly, and when you see it has dropped you may turn it.

You'll want to avoid continually adding new material to the pile once decomposition has begun. This is so your finished compost is not mixed with larger bits that have yet to break down. Work in batches using multiple bins or separate piles.

Harvesting the Compost

The compost should be ready to use within three to four months. A heap started in late spring can be ready for use in the autumn. Start another heap in autumn for use in the spring. Your compost is finished and ready to use when you can no longer recognize the feed stocks used to make it. You may sift it through a piece of welded wire mesh to remove any larger bits that still remain among the finished compost. Finished compost should be dark, crumbly, and have a sweet “earthy” smell.

Food scraps are plentiful year round. An Autumn leaf pile can be ready to use in the Spring

Using the compost

High quality soil is the basis for plant growth. Compost is rich with macro and micronutrients. Organic matter enhances the proliferation of organisms, which not only promotes root development and assists in the extraction of nutrients from the soil, but also helps suppress specific plant diseases. In addition, compost also has the capacity to hold up to 20 times its weight in water. For these reasons GardenSoxx has been researched and designed to be filled with a high quality compost material. This inexpensive, locally sourced recycled media is what makes GardenSoxx a sustainable agricultural practice. Using our EZ Filler, you can easily fill GardenSoxx with your homemade compost to grow a more productive garden.

GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation
GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation

GardenSoxx Garden Kit with EZ Filler and Irrigation


With a GardenSoxx Garden Kit you can easily build a weed-free raised bed garden that provides optimal growing conditions for healthier, faster-growing plants. Use the EZ Filler (the shipping tube) to fill GardenSoxx with locally-sourced compost or your favorite potting mix. The included drip irrigation system makes watering easy and efficient.

  • Use GardenSoxx anywhere
  • Unlimited garden design possibilities
  • Sow seeds or plant transplants
  • Reusable for years
  • No weeds

The patented fabric allows drainage, aeration, and cooling of the soil. Natural air-pruning of roots stimulates new root growth and increases the plant's ability to absorb nutrients. Designed to be filled with nutrient-rich compost, more roots + more nutrients = more productive plants.

Kit includes:

  • Roll of GardenSoxx mesh
  • EZ Filler cardboard tube
  • Drip irrigation fittings for up to four rows

Compost not included.

Article credit : Heidi Cohen ( )

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