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The Environment@Home


Compost Pile

One of the most worthwhile projects that I've ever done is making my first compost pile.  Composting is a great way to have a FREE soil enhancer at your disposal.  Additionally, you'll be reducing the volume of organic materials going to the landfill - where they don't do much of anything...aside from take up space.  Composting is simple, it doesn't take much space and your neighbors won't be knocking at your door complaining of an offensive odor.

What you'll need to start composting:

  • Green stuff
  • Brown stuff
  • A composting fork, a shovel or something else with which you can turn the pile
  • A spot for your pile

Really, that's it.  Sure, you can set up a compost bin, manage multiple piles or have a fancy turning bin...but in reality, it isn't rocket science - so don't make it a hassle.

What to Do What You are Actually Doing
Start with the brown - that typically means a layer of dead leaves a several inches thick.  Dried grass, dead leaves, brown pine needles, etc...all are 'brown'. You are adding carbon.
Add a few inches of green - grass clippings, fresh leaves and cuttings, food scraps & coffee grounds (yeah, they count as green) and table scraps Here you are adding nitrogen.  All living (or formerly living) things have more carbon than nitrogen, so you are really adding more carbon, too.  In the end, a 2:1 mix of green to brown is about the right mix.
Add a little soil You need to add some soil-living microbes - they are the ones that do most of the work!
Make sure it gets wet. The microbes need water to survive.  The pile should be moist but not soggy.  If you can step on it and see water ooze from your pile - it's too wet...conversely, if you step on it and hear leaves crunch - it's too dry. 
Aerate the pile.  You can flip it, you can poke it or you can just add bulkers - wood chips, oak leaves or short sticks. The other thing the microbes need is oxygen.  Providing air passages into the pile is the way to keep the 'helpful' organisms alive.
Wait. Give it several weeks - the microorganisms, millipedes and worms need some time to do their thing .  You'll be happy with the results!

There is a general consensus that ~ 30:1 carbon:nitrogen ration is ideal.  Don't be fixated on that, though...if you are off the mark, nothing bad will just might take a little longer.  Remember that ALL living things are you'll take of the carbon with no issues; the 'green' materials are generally in the 20:1 (carbon:nitrogen) range...the 'browns' are in the 60:1 range.  Using the 20:1 and 60:1 general-purpose ratios, I arrived at the rough 2:1 green:brown mix. 

One easy thing to do is to compost your coffee grounds, banana peels, apple cores, etc., (which are generally better in the nitrogen department).  This doesn't have to be messy or gross at all - I just keep an empty plastic coffee container next to the sink.  I just toss in the scraps as I prepare food - and when I'm finished with dinner, I toss in those scraps, as well.  Once every few days, I toss the contents on the coffee container onto my active compost pile and turn some material on top.  Done and done.  In the end, it's just as easy as throwing food in the trash can or down the disposal.

Ok - if your eyes aren't glazed-over yet - there are just a few more pieces of information that you'll need to know.

Two of the most non-obvious, yet important, aspects of the composting process are pile mass and pile temperature.  You'll generally want a pile that is between 27ft3 and 125ft3 (3' x 3' x 3' up to 5' x 5' x 5').  If you have a pile that is smaller, you won't get the critical mass of organisms eating their way through the pile and when you have a larger pile, it's difficult to get oxygen to the center and the bottom of the pile.  These living organisms chewing on the pile will be making heat - and that's a good thing.  The temperature at the center of a good pile will be ~130-140 F; generally any weed seeds or plant diseases that see that kind of temperature for several days will be killed - and you'll be left with pristine compost. 

So, go rake your leaves and your grass cuttings into a pile and compost them; it sure beats having to pay to haul them away.  And, if you are really fixated on getting it perfect, or just want more information, feel free to peruse these sites:

Compost Guide - How to compost, charts of what you should and should not compost and troubleshooting tips.

Texas A&M's Composting for Kids - A very concise set of instructions for building a compost pile.  So easy that a kid can do it. 

A presentation that I put together for Mrs. Eckhart's Class at Primary Village North - Keep in mind I was talking to 1st graders!

Links used with written permission of and Texas A&M University, respectively.


Michael Sheppard | | 2019  Michael Sheppard - 2014