DIY Compost Pile

Using compost is about as organic as you can get in caring for your lawn and garden.  Compost is the decomposed plant remains and other once-living materials used to make a substance that is excellent for enriching garden soil.

Composting is recycling your yard and kitchen wastes which reduces the volume of garbage, while creating an organic fertilizer  - it’s a win-win situation.  You can purchase compost at some nurseries, but it’s expensive, make your own, it’s easy, reduces your garbage and gives you a great deal of satisfaction in putting your garbage to good use.

Compost Piles

To start a compost pile, dedicate some outdoor space convenient to the garden and close enough to easily dispose of yard waste and kitchen scaps.  It’s not the most attractive landscape addition, so the front yard is out.  You have two choices for compost piles, small open areas enclosed by fencing or closed containers.

Open vs. Closed

Open compost piles are easier to ‘construct’ using chicken wire or wood to enclose a small area for your pile.  They easily collect rainwater and tend to be more convenient.  On the other hand, they’re not as attractive and can attract rodents and pests.

Closed compost piles use enclosed containers for composting.  Either a drum like container or just an upright container.  They look much better than an open compost pile and don’t attract pests.  They can also cost – a decent drum composter can run from $50 - $300.

Compost Recipe

Unfortunately, compost doesn’t just happen, it’s created by a mixture of different waste ingredients.  Microorganisms do the cooking by eating, multiplying and converting the materials to compost.  You just need to give them the right environment and ingredients to start cooking, including food, water and air.  The water and air are the easy part, what food do you give these little guys to do the dirty work?

Carbon and nitrogen make them happy, with ‘greens’ providing carbon and ‘browns’ giving them their nitrogen.

Greens include:

  • Grass clippings from the lawn;
  • Manure;
  • Kitchen waste (including fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds)
  • Weeds

Browns consist of:

  • Yard waste such as dried leaved and grasses
  • Shredded cornstalks
  • Straw

Unfortunately, you can’t use cat or dog waste in your compost pile.  also avoid bones, animal fat, plastic and paper.

You don’t need to measure here, but you do need the right combination for a good compost.  Approximately 4 parts brown and 1 part green ingredients.  Too much brown will take too much time for the microorganisms to do their job.  Too many greens will result in a pile of garbage.

Mixing it Up

Microorganisms need warmth to do their work. Use a pile of materials at least one foot square to generate a warm core for the little guys.  Don’t add to the batch after you’ve started, or you get put back to square one.  Start a new pile instead.

Turn the pile with a pitchfork or rotate your drum to mix up the ingredients and spread the warmth.  Turning times vary according to temperatures, but a good rule of thumb is at least once a week. Ideal conditions and mixing the compost can give you a good compost product within 1-2 months.

What Do I Do With it Now?

Use the finished compost as an additive to your soil.  It’s particularly beneficial to your garden.  Add from one to three inches of compost to your soil and work it in well.   It can also be used as a natural mulch, but rarely will you have enough to use.

With some garbage, some microorganisms and  a little elbow grease, compost can be the most environmentally friendly garden tool you have.