How to Start a Compost Pile From Scratch

Whether you want compost for your garden or want to recycle food stuffs, in this post we’ll discuss how to start a compost pile from scratch.

One of the big tasks of keeping a home running is making sure everything works well together.

how to make compost pile step by step

Part of this is making sure that wastes gets well managed.

It gives them a second life.

That banana that you ate will go to fuel you, and the peel will go to fuel your garden! It’s a perfect cycle and nothing gets wasted.

Take it another level and give the scraps to your backyard chickens, let them mix it with their compostable bedding, eat what they will and poop on the rest, and then compost that nitrogen-rich mix!

This is one of the reasons why composting plays a huge role in home keeping, gardening, and self-sufficiency.

There are many benefits to composting such as creating healthy, biodynamic, organic, and nutrient-dense compost to grow your vegetables in.

In addition to compost, it puts to use food stuffs that would otherwise have taken up space in a landfill.

But like most things, getting off on the right foot is essential.

Let me give you a quick run-through with the things you need to know about composting before you start a compost pile at your home.

Composting can be as simple or as complex as you make it. For the interest of today’s post, we’re going to keep it simple.

starting a compost pile

How to Start a Compost Pile From Scratch

What is a Compost Pile?

A compost pile can be everything from a section of your yard, fenced with pallets, or a compost bin on a frame that you can “tumble”. Use whatever works for you.

It is mostly made up of decomposing plant and food waste and recycling organic matter, resulting in a mixture rich in nutrients and useful creatures like worms and fungi.

We actually have several composting areas on our homestead: one fenced in by pallets, one in a black plastic box for our vermicomposting, and simply a pile of horse manure composting in the open.

how to make compost at home

It’s far enough away from the house not to attract bugs or for the smell to be offensive, but close enough that it’s a quick walk from the kitchen.

I would also, however, recommend keeping a compost pail in your kitchen for simplicity.

This can be anything from a Lowes 5 gallon bucket, to a small metal feedbin, to a fancy, ornate compost bucket that doubles as decoration.

Use this to collect your daily scraps and then walk it out to the large pile every day or every few days.

This is the one I have: 1.3 gallon compost bin. I like that it’s attractive enough to keep on my counter, which means the hubby and kids are more likely to use it too!

Different scraps decompose at different rates. To speed along the process, be sure to cut or break the scraps into smaller pieces.

a compost pile with food scraps and leaves

Different Ways to Prepare a Compost Bin

Now that we know the basics of how you can prepare compost at home, what are different ways you can prepare it at home?

First, you can use enclosed compost bins. Another way is to use the open pile method. Lastly, you can also use the hot pile method.

For enclosed compost bins, you can make use of compost containers or compost tumblers.

This way, you know that your composting materials are well kept and heat and moisture are retained properly. Most enclosed compost bins are placed on the ground in a convenient location.

These kinds of bins can be bought or can be made from scratch.

An open bin requires less attention and care. It is also the best option when using garden waste. Kitchen scraps, kitchen wastes, and other food waste might not do so well in an open bin as they can attract flies or other rodents.

Preparing an open bin requires such simple steps—as simple as a loop of chicken wire. With enough materials, you can prepare open bins easily.

how to start compost pile

Why Should I Start Compost Pile at Home?

The first reason why it is a good thing to keep your own compost pile at home is that it helps reduce the amount of waste you have at home.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, around 30% of the waste that is accumulated is made up of food scraps and yard waste.

As a homeowner, you’re gonna love it as it helps deal with waste. As a gardener, you’re gonna love it as it helps you have nutrient-rich soil.

This is why most gardeners call it their “black gold”. It is the easiest way to make your outdoor space the best place to grow your plants. It is also a great way to prevent diseased plants too!

different types of compost piles

How do I Start the Composting Process?

Preparing your own compost bin is quite easy. The compost materials we will need to perform this process are organic matter, moisture, oxygen, and bacteria.

For organic matter, you can have both plant material and animal waste. The organic materials should have brown materials and green materials.

Brown ingredients could consist of dead leaves or dry leaves, tree branches, and animal waste.

For green materials, you could have fruit scraps, grass clippings, yard clippings, vegetable clippings or vegetable peelings, banana peels, egg shells, tea bags, and coffee grounds.

Brown ingredients are carbon-rich materials, while green items are nitrogen-rich materials. If you want to make the decomposition process faster, you can always add smaller pieces of your materials.

The carbon to nitrogen ratio that is the best for this is 1 part brown to 1 part green.

This means you want to have an equal amount of browns and greens present in your bin. If your compost pit is only made up of a certain number of layers of browns, you can toss in chemical fertilizers that have much nitrogen you need.

The idea here is to even out the nitrogen content with the carbon materials using nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

To make sure your composting bin works, make sure the right moisture is there. For the best results, your bin has to have moisture like that of a damp sponge.

A compost bin that doesn’t have that much moisture tends to decompose very slowly while a bin that has excess moisture lures in unwanted flies, foul odors, and chemicals that can be a source of plant diseases.

Depending on what you’ve added, it will take a few months to develop into a compost you can add back into your garden.

what can you compost?

What to Compost

  • fruit and vegetable scraps
  • eggshells
  • leaves
  • grass clippings
  • lawn & garden weeds
  • straw or hay
  • pine needles
  • flower cuttings
  • wood ash
  • chicken manure
  • coffee grounds
  • tea leaves
  • newspaper & shredded paper
  • sawdust

What to Avoid Adding to Your Compost Pile

  • any meat or bones
  • black walnut leaves (these are poisonous)
  • diseased plants
  • invasive weeds

There are some things that you don’t want to add to your compost. These could be oily or greasy food, like meat, oil, or fat.

Also avoid adding diseased plants, weed seeds, and wood chips. Although waste from dairy products sounds like a good ingredient, it is a better idea to not toss it into your compost.

Adding fats and meats will go putrid and create a foul odor to develop in your bin and could attract unwanted diseases and pests.

Temperature is another concern that you want to check. For a healthy compost bin, the temperature at the middle of the pile should be within 10 degrees F of the temperature outside.

The best spot to prepare a compost bin is at a shady spot. The best time to prepare your compost bins is around the fall season.

child playing with a bucket and spade and compost

Are There Problems I Might Face When Starting My Own Bin?

As easy as preparing your compost bin looks, when something wrong happens to the ratio, things could get out of hand.

It’s either you have wet or dry compost, too much of an ingredient, or too much acid. But, don’t worry. I’m gonna walk you through it.

The best way to deal with a compost heap that is too wet is to revamp the whole compost. Dig out everything and allow enough air to get in before restacking the layers.

You can do this manually or with the help of a compost turner. Add more dry leaves and other dry materials into the bin.

This helps even out the greens and browns and allows good drainage.

On the other hand, if you are working with dry compost, decomposition will eventually stop. Find the closest water source and sprinkle water into the compost to get it wet and moist again.

Another problem home compost piles might face is having too many clippings. Yard clippings, though they might come in big batches, shouldn’t be added to the bin in just one batch.

Instead, you can use your excess clippings as mulch over your plants or in your garden bed. Always remember that a great way to use your clippings is to use them in small amounts.

I’m not saying that yard clippings are bad for the compost bin, I’m just saying that they can come in small amounts or just use them as a top dressing for the compost.

An acidic compost bin does not encourage a good end product. Instead, it just slows down the decomposition process.

To counteract the acidity, sprinkle in some charcoal ash or ground line to the pit. Add in more browns and greens to the compost afterward to restart the process.

To find more ideas on composting, check out these posts on worm bins, compost tea, and more on vegetable garden composting.

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5 Comments

  1. There was a compost pile already started on our property when we moved in a couple of months ago, so I’ve just been adding to it. I’m planning on tweaking it in the spring so that there are three separate piles going in different stages at once.
    We use quart-sized plastic bags for our daily compost and keep it in the freezer to keep the fruit flies at bay. We empty those twice a week or so. The large plastic coffee buckets are ideal for this purpose, but I haven’t got one right now.
    Happy composting!

  2. Compost is most inexpensive and useful fertilizers for our soil. The important benefits of this practice is natural vegetables, plants. Animal manure and cow dung is used extensively and it,s good source to make compost. Cow-Dung has more organic and nutrients value and thus it gives positive impact to the soil.

  3. Hey there!

    I’ve been composting on and off for years now, really got into the Biodynamic side of things while I lived in Australia. Hot composting was awesome. I’ve just got back into it in a BIG way, have you looked into the Bokashi method. Looks quite interesting and allows you to compost a lot more stuff, as the process in anaerobic.

    Be interested in any experience you have with it.

    Love the blog style, looks great

    1. I’ve never heard of the Bokashi method, but now I’m intrigued! Going to hit Google and see what it’s about. Thanks for sharing!!

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