The first thing you need to do is find a place you want to start and have your compost pile. It is helpful to put the compost pile in an area that’s easy to get to and out of the way at the same time. You can have the compost pile on the dirt. Or you can make yourself a fence out of chicken wire and put everything in there. The fencing method works well if you think you will have animals getting in.
Some people put a tarp or plastic under the compost pile to keep the good nutrients from being absorbed into the ground under the pile, I never have done this since that keeps beneficial bugs and worms from getting into the pile from the ground and it also restricts air flowing through the pile. If you want the compost pile somewhat off the ground and still want good airflow throughout the pile, putting wood pallets underneath is a good idea.
The size of the compost pile should be at least 3’Wx3’Lx3’H. That is a manageable size and it’s large enough to get everything going and small enough to retain heat. If you have more room, making more than one compost pile of this size can be advantageous allowing you to use one while making another.
Ingredients for a Compost Pile
What you need in the compost pile are brown and green items. Brown items would be dried leaves, dried grass like what you get when you rake the lawn, hay and straw or some shredded newspapers. Green items would be freshly mowed grass and kitchen scraps.
Brown items add the carbon and the green items are the nitrogen. You need a good balance of both to get the compost pile cooking properly and the microbes can do their work, the eating and the digesting of all of this mixture.
To start put a good base of brown material down and then put a layer of green materials on that and then another layer of brown material and then another layer of green material. I let that sit for a week or so and let it get started.
Have you ever noticed how hot fresh mowed grass is when you put your hand in it, that’s the microbes already doing their work. You want your compost pile to be hot. And a good combination of the materials gets it hot, including just wet enough and airflow. The kitchen scraps I use are strictly vegetable, never any type of animal product like meat or diary. The kitchen scraps can be any vegetable peelings and ends. You can also use coffee grounds since worms love those.
Maintaining the Compost Pile
During the summer, you continue to add the brown and green materials to the pile and stir it. Using a pitchfork works well. That loosens it up and gets good air flowing through it. Add more items in the layers and stir it. To keep the air flowing inside of the compost pile, some people insert PVC tubes that has holes drilled into it.
If you live in a dry climate or it’s been really dry, you need to keep the compost pile moist. After stirring and adding more material, just water it down by hand. Getting it about as wet as a wrung out sponge. Not too wet though.
During the winter you can maintain or even start a compost pile. I never add kitchen scraps during the winter since they will mainly just sit there. You can get a good start on the next seasons compost pile by layering the green and brown materials such as the grass and dried leaves. Since it’s colder in the winter, the compost pile will work much slower. You can also put a black plastic tarp over it to maintain the heat in there.
The Compost Pile is Ready
When the compost pile has finished it will be about half the size as it was when you started, it will smell like very fresh earth, a great smell actually. You can then start adding to your gardens.