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How to Start a Compost Pile

A process that is less expensive and healthier than buying fertilizers and other synthetic growth enhancements is starting a compost pile.

A compost heap is made up of organic kitchen waste and yard waste that decomposes to produce humus, which is useful to fertilize the soil.

It is used by gardeners who want to make their own organic fertilizer to grow food.

Read on to learn how to make compost.

Decide Why You Want One

This step may seem like common sense, but there are people out there who are enthralled with the idea of being “off the grid” or “self-sufficient” yet they live in a crowded downtown area.

They also go out to eat for every meal and live in a high rise apartment complex with absolutely no room for such an endeavor.

These are often the people you will see trying to give away free chickens on Craigslist.

This is because their pipe dream of raising their own free-range eggs turned out to be impossible. You actually need a twenty-minute elevator ride to get the chicken to fresh air.

Please, confirm with the reality that you have at least enough room for a shoebox in which to house your compost.

If you have a yard, even better. If you have room enough for an actual garden, where you will use this compost, perfection.

Obtain a Container

You will need a bin or a tumbler in which to place your organic matter that will be turned in to compost.

You can make your own or buy one that is pre-assembled. You can also have an open pile, for example out in the back corner of your yard.

This is fine if you have a big yard but beware it may attract nuisance wildlife if you continually place food waste in it. To them, it is like a dish full of treats.

What to Put in a Compost Bin?

Organic yard and kitchen waste are the two main ingredients.

  • Leaves
  • Wood shavings
  • Sawdust
  • Grass clippings
  • Tea leaves
  • Eggshells
  • Corn cobs
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Table scraps

What NOT to Put in Compost

Dairy products will curdle, stink, and slow down the whole process.

Feces, both humans and pets are a big no-no. They can just spread diseases to your nice vegetables.

Do you have a bunch of sawdust from cutting the boards from that deck you just built? Know your woods, because hopefully, you used pressure-treated wood for the deck.

Pressure-treated wood is great for the deck, but not great for the food you are going to eat. You do not want to be adding chemicals to your pile.

Can You Compost Bread?

Yes. Once it is moist, bread breaks down easily and will add nitrogen to your compost.

Please note, however, that it may attract more insects than usual.

The Process

Though there are different composting methods, a simple homemade heap is set up in layers, just like your favorite cake.

  • The bottom should be comprised of about four inches of brush, twigs, straw, or other woody material.
  • Next comes a four-inch layer of brown material, but remember, no poop. Brown materials include newspaper, dry leaves, straw or hay, wood chips, sawdust, etc.
  • Atop that, you will want four inches of the good green stuff.
  • Add water to keep it moist and speed up decomposition. Your compost must not be too wet or too dry.
  • The bin or composter must be placed in a location where it is warm — receiving at least partial sun. The more heat it receives, the faster the contents will break down.

The finished product should look and smell like rich, dark soil.

Talk With Your Neighbors

Talking with your neighbors about your compost heap has two benefits. First of all, you can get a sense of whether they are mad or not.

Composters, when left to their own devices, can start to smell bad over time.

Depending on which way the wind blows, your neighbor might be the one stuck smelling that all the time. Or, maybe they have a dog who likes to wander and eat bad things.

If you are routinely throwing table scraps into the yard, the neighbor dog might be eating them as fast as they hit the ground. That isn’t good for the dog as much as it isn’t good for your pile.

The other reason to talk to your neighbor is to see if they may want to contribute their yard waste or kitchen scraps to the pile. Double the profits, so to speak.

You may then offer to split the pile with them when it is ready. This could form a nice friendship, much better than making an enemy in such proximity.


After all the time and effort you have invested in creating your bin and then spreading it on your garden, be sure you enjoy the benefits of your labor.

Not only are you putting less in the landfill, but you are consuming fewer chemicals as well.


Creating a DIY compost bin is a smart way to cut down on waste and save money.

It will help your garden, flowers, lawn, or houseplants greatly, all while saving you a trip down to the local plant store to buy bags of someone else’s compost.

Sasha Brown

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