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Making A Compost Pile
Is Easier Than You Think

If you’re interested in making a compost pile, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve put together the following information to help guide you during your compost pile creation.

Before we get going, let’s make sure you’re in the right place. The information below is specifically for those of you that want to compost outdoors on a small-scale (e.g. backyard or urban composting). If you’re interested in learning more about large-scale composting, please visit the following page – Build a Compost Pile (large-scale composting).

Now that we know you’re in the right place, let’s get started.

There are several different methods you can use when making a compost pile; however, for the purposes of this guide we’ve chosen a method we learned from Elliot Coleman, one of our organic gardening gurus. The following guidelines have been adapted from Coleman’s text – The New Organic Grower. If you haven’t read this book, please please PLEASE do yourself the honor and order it now.

The Basics of Making A Compost Pile

Are you an avid composter? If so, please skip this section. If not, there are a few basic composting topics we want to cover before we begin building our piles.

The key to making high quality compost begins with an understanding of these three critical areas:

  • Aeration – Your pile must have adequate oxygen

  • Moisture – Your pile must have adequate moisture

  • Ingredients – Your pile must start with the right compost ingredients
If you’re not familiar with any of these topics, take the time now to review the links above. When you’re done, proceed to the section below.

Sourcing Your Compost Ingredients

Sometimes this can be the most difficult part of the entire compost-building process, especially when you live in an urban area. This becomes even more challenging if you’re living in a newly-developed urban area; there are so few sources of organic matter (e.g. large trees) in new subdivisions.

Whatever your living situation, here are some suggestions to help you find compost ingredients locally:

  • Ask your neighbors if you can have their grass clippings.

  • Call local arborists/tree service companies and ask if they can drop off a load of free wood chips the next time they have a job in your area.

  • Call local farmers and ask if they have any manure, spoiled hay, or straw they’d be willing to part with.

  • If your municipality has a composting program, ask your neighbors to give you their food/organic wastes instead of giving them to the city. Even if your city doesn’t compost, ask your neighbors for their organic food wastes.

  • Ask your local coffee shop (Starbucks are always more than happy to help with composting initiatives) if you can have their used coffee grounds.

Ideally, when making a compost pile, you’re able to collect ALL of your compost ingredients before you start building the pile. However, that’s typically not the case. Instead, what usually happens is that you build your compost pile gradually over a period of several months.

Making A Compost Pile By Layering Your Ingredients

This is an important step in making compost. Once you have your ingredients, you want to form them into a pile using alternating layers. For example, in the diagram below, we have repeating layers of 3″ of straw, 2″ of fresh grass clippings, and 1″ of topsoil mixed with rock dust.

Depending on your specific composting materials, you may have to experiment with different thicknesses of each layer.

Why do we recommend adding rock dust to your compost?

In this example, rock dust is used to describe a natural mineral powder that can be added to compost to encourage biological activity and add nutrients to the final compost product. Soil microbes love this stuff and help to shuttle it into your plants. For more information on rock dusts and how they can take your growing to the next level of productivity, please sign up for our email updates and compost newsletter.

Making A Compost Pile Using Bales of Straw

There are many different compost bins and techniques that you can use to contain your ingredients; however, in this example we’re following Elliot Coleman’s advice and he recommends building a compost bin using a straw-bale enclosure.

Why straw bales?

  • easy to find (just call a local farmer)

  • insulate your pile

  • keep your pile moist

  • allow good air flow

  • encourage your entire pile to decompose, including the edges

  • movable and modular

  • become a source of carbon for your compost after a couple years

Using straw bales to build a compost bin is similar to using concrete blocks. Be sure to interlock the bales from layer to layer. To create additional air flow, leave spaces between adjoining bales (see diagram below).

Example of a Straw Bale Compost Bin

Below are a few diagrams to help you when you’re making a compost pile using straw bales to build your bin.

straw bale compost bin

straw bale compost bin

What About Turning My Pile?

We need to answer one final question about making a compost pile – how often should you turn it?

In Coleman’s book, he says that once a pile is built in the above manner, there is no need to turn it. As long as you monitor the pile’s moisture and keep it covered (use a tarp, an old rug, a piece of carpet, or a 3-4 inch layer of topsoil), your compost should be ready within 18 months.

If you don’t want to wait that long, we suggest turning your pile at least once a month. If built and maintained properly, your compost should be ready within 6-8 months.

That’s it! You’re no longer a newbie in the world of compost pile making. Congratulations! If you enjoyed the information above, please click the “Like” button at the top of the page.

If you would like to learn more about compost, check out our compost blog. It’s updated daily.

Questions – Comments

If you have any questions or comments regarding the information on this page, or about composting in general, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.