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How to Make a Compost Pile

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 5/29/2010

Making a compost pile is easy to do. There are many people that try to make composting a difficult topic, but it doesn't have to be. People have been composting for generations using the materials they had on hand. Learn how easy composting can be.

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    The Compost Bin

    The first thing you need to do is figure out where you are going to build your compost pile. The best place to build your compost pile is an outdoor area that is easily accessible and will not bother neighbors. Consider that neighbors may not want a compost pile right next to their fence, and instead choose an area that provides distance from connecting property.

    Second, you need to decide what you are going to build your compost pile in. Compost piles can be built directly on an outdoor soil area. For cosmetic reasons, most people choose to build their compost pile in a container instead of directly on the ground. Commercial made compost bins can be purchased or a homemade version can be made. Homemade compost bins can be made out of a container that is handy. To adapt a container for compost use, you need to follow two simple rules.

    1. Choose a container that is at least three feet deep, three feet wide, and three feet tall. Containers this size and bigger create the optimum space for compost to decompose materials. The size requirement is preferable but not necessarily required. Good results can be obtained with other size containers.

    2. Drill air holes into the container to provide ventilation for compost to get oxygen. Note: Some people have success without ventilation holes.

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    Building the Compost Pile

    To start a compost pile, mix roughly fifty percent carbon rich materials with fifty percent nutrient rich materials. Keep reading for an explanation of carbon rich and nutrient rich materials.

    Carbon rich materials are also referred to as brown materials. It is easier to think of carbon rich materials as dead or dry materials. Carbon rich materials are items such as dry leaves, dead dry plants, wood ash, wood chips, saw dust, egg shells, nutshells, straw, hay, and dirt.

    Nutrient rich materials are also referred to as green materials. It is easier to think of nutrient rich materials as live or wet materials. Nutrient rich materials are items such as animal feces, vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, grass clippings, fresh plants, coffee grounds, tea bags, and fresh leaves.

    Common materials used to start a compost pile are: dried leaves, fresh grass clippings, and soil. After the compost pile is built, water the compost pile with enough water to make it damp. Covering the compost pile with a tarp or other cover is recommended. A covered compost pile holds moisture better (compost needs moisture), keeps compost warmer (compost needs heat), and is protected from pests.

    If still confused, this article offers more information on what materials you can compost and the difference between green and brown.

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    Maintaining the Compost Pile

    Regularly add items such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and dried leaves to your compost pile. Every time you add anything to your compost pile, stir the pile using a rake or other tool, to mix the materials. Always stir the compost pile at least once a week.

    Make sure the compost pile is always damp but not wet. Lightly spray the compost pile with water if it looks dry.

    Compost will be ready for use in three months to one year. Compost is ready when all items have decomposed and the compost looks like soft dark dirt and smells fresh.