Beginning a Compost Pile in Your Yard

What you’ll need

  • Wire sheep or turkey fencing 15 feet long by 5 feet high
  • Pitchfork or shovel

step 1: Gather Materials

Collect dry materials and green materials. Dry materials might be:

  • Leaves
  • Dry weeds or grass
  • Sawdust

Green materials might be:

  • Lawn clippings
  • Green weeds or other garden plants
  • Kitchen scraps (but not meat or fat)

step 2: Make the Bin

Form the fencing into a cylinder and hook some of the ends to make it stay together. Your compost bin should be about 5 feet in diameter and 5 feet high.

step 3: Build the Pile in Layers

Throw about 6 inches of dry compost material into the bin. If the material is very compact, like sawdust or chopped leaves, make the layer 3 inches deep. Wet down dry material as you go or set up a sprinkler to wet the pile as you build it.

Add a second layer of green compost material about 3 inches deep. Add a sprinkling of good garden soil. This “salts” the compost with bacteria to begin decomposition. Repeat these three layers until the pile is at least 3 feet high…or fill the bin.

step 4: Watch the Bacteria Work

Over the next few days, the pile will heat up as bacteria decompose the compost material. Take the pile’s temperature by sticking an iron pipe or piece of metal deep into it. Let it warm up for 5 minutes, then pull it out and feel it. The center of the pile will get so hot you won’t be able to hold the pipe for more than a moment.

step 5: Turn the Pile

After a few weeks, the pile will begin to cool down. Unwrap the fencing and use it to make a new bin next to the compost pile.

Turn the pile inside out by taking off the outside and top of the old pile and putting it in the center of the new bin. Add the center of the old pile to the outside of the new one. If the compost has dried out, water it as you turn it. It should be quite moist but not soggy.

step 6: Use Your Compost

The pile will heat up again, but it won’t get quite so hot this time. Let it cool down until it is air temperature or almost so, and it’s ready to use. The whole process takes two or three months in warm weather. Add your compost to soil anyplace you want to improve it. Regular additions of compost make any soil like good potting mix.