How to Start a Compost Pile

by R Long
January 25, 2017

How to Start a Compost Pile

Composting is a method of recycling naturally decomposing matter. You can use the cold or the hot method to start a compost pile. There are advantages to each method. Using the hot method will kill bacteria as well as weed seeds. The pile heats up due to the composition of the materials used. The cold method will not kill weed seeds as it does not heat up. However, it definitely is the easier method. No measuring, no turning, no special care is needed.

What an easy thing to do. Just go outside and throw your leftovers in a pile. This includes eggs and egg shells. Now hold on, not quite so easy! You do not want a garbage pile in your backyard. You can do better than that.

Do not add any meat or meat items, including meat bones. Meat items will attract rodents, pests, flies, and all neighboring dogs and cats. This is the last thing you need in your back yard. More items not to compost are milk, cheese, yogurt, cream or cooked rice. All of these things will degrade but they will also attract pests. Cooked rice will attract bacteria, but not the kind of bacteria that is good for your compost pile.

Vegetable leftovers are great items to compost.  They disintegrate very quickly. You may add paper items but not the heavily coated paper products. Broccoli stems do not compost quickly but they will disintegrate over time. If they are chopped into small pieces they will will decompose much faster. Tomatoes compost quickly and onions may sprout in your pile. The cold method takes longer for the items to turn into usable compost but it works.

After starting a pile in your back yard you may be plagued with flies. Nightly the pile may be moved around and you may find some of the banana peels in the middle of your yard. To solve this problem keep a shovel next to your compost pile with a pile of soil. After placing your leftovers on the pile, cover them with the dirt. After a short period of time, you will only have to move dirt from one part of the pile to another to cover the new items. You will not be able to tell that what or where you have added to the pile.

You do not have to constantly mix and turn the pile. It is a no work compost pile. Just what we need. It is good for the environment to compost. Why add to our landfills? You can compost and add nutrients to our soils and help the environment. It will not happen overnight but you are putting out less garbage for the garbage trucks and the dump. Goodness knows they have enough work as it is.Compost Bucket

Keeping a pile of leftovers in your kitchen to carry outside every day is not fun. The odor and the fruit flies in your kitchen will drive you crazy. You can purchase a composting  bucket for your kitchen. The only requirement is that it has a good lid so the fruit flies cannot get in and the odor can not get out. Easy Peasy.

Introduction to the “Hot” Composting Method

A hot compost pile is a bit more difficult. Using this method you have to measure the ingredients and turn the pile. Definitely more care is needed.

According to the Farmers Almanac: “The quickest way to produce rich garden humus is to create a hot, or active, compost pile. It is called “hot” because it can reach an internal temperature of 160°F and “active” because it destroys, essentially by cooking, weed seeds and disease-causing organisms. The size of the pile, the ingredients, and their arrangements in layers are key to reaching that desired outcome.”

The pile should be about 3 to 4 cubic feet. Add 2 parts of high-carbon material. This can be made up of shredded dry plant (brown) matter such as leaves and twigs. Add 1 part of high-nitrogen (green) plant matter . This is generally where your kitchen scraps and left-over vegetables come in. However, grass clippings can be used for this item.

The ingredients should be layered with the carbon on the bottom, add some soil to the top of that layer, then add your nitrogen based items, more soil, and keep layering till your pile is about 2 to 3 feet high. Now add water to moisten the pile, but not too much.

Soon the pile will heat up and the composting process will begin. The pile does need fresh air so you need to turn it or just punch holes in the side of the pile. Pipes can be added to help the air reach the middle of the pile. Check the moisture often and add more water if needed.

A temperature of 110 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit is best for composting. If the pile emits an odor, then it needs more air. When the pile has cooled down, it means the compost is ready to be turned. The size of the pile will have decreased significantly. After turning the pile often and it no longer heats up, it is ready for your garden.

Taking care of a hot compost pile is too much work for most of us. We will have a great pile of compost but the slow method works for me. I can wait. My garden does not know the difference between compost from a hot or cold pile.

Composting is rewarding. If you have added papaya seeds in the spring, you may also have a papaya tree growing from your pile. That is in addition to tomato plants from the seeds you may have discarded.

Everyone should always do their best to help our environment. Composting will help.


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