Summer’s soaring temperatures have plummeted and autumn leaves are beginning to litter the ground. Now is the perfect time to start your compost pile.
Approximately 90 billion pounds of food is wasted in America every single year. That’s roughly 30 percent of the food that is sold. (Source)
Not only does a compost pile cut down on your household waste, it turns that “waste” into rich and beautiful soil to grow fresh fruits and vegetables in.
Even if you don’t garden, starting a compost pile is worth it. I promise you that the avid gardeners in your life would consider a few loads of fresh compost an awesome present.
So why should you start your compost pile NOW? Because a good compost pile needs two types of materials: greens (like kitchen scraps) and browns (like, you guessed it, dried leaves). Plus, if you start in autumn, your pile will be at least partially composted come spring planting time.
How to Start a Compost Pile
Select a Site for Your Compost:
Pinterest is full of ideas for cute composters. Me? I opted for a plain old-fashioned pile, hidden behind the shed. I’d suggest tucking the pile in a hidden, but easily accessible, spot. If you have to dodge an obstacle course to get to it, the compost pile is likely to get neglected.
Also make sure it is a spot that doesn’t stay soggy for days after a downpour. A pile that’s too wet starts to smell bad quickly.
To compost properly, the pile should be at least 3′ wide by 3′ long and (eventually) 3′ tall. That size will help it generate enough heat to compost properly.
Build Your Compost Pile:
Compost piles are not like puffed pastries. You do not have to measure exactly to get rich crumbly results. The general rule of thumb though is 1 part “green” materials to 3 parts “brown” materials.
Green (or nitrogen-rich) materials:
- Fruit & vegetable scraps
- Coffee grinds & tea bags
- Garden trimmings from healthy plants*
- Eggshells, preferably crushed
- Farm animal manure, like rabbits or backyard chickens
- Weeds, that haven’t gone to seed
- Grass clippings (add in thin layers or stir around so it doesn’t mat)
Brown (or carbon-rich) materials:
- Leaves, except black walnut leaves
- Cardboard (even toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, etc)
- Shredded newspapers, scrap paper, etc (avoid glossy paper though)
- Corncob husks
Material to AVOID in your Compost Pile
- Meat, dairy, and oil (you don’t want to attract nasty critters!)
- Glossy paper
- Cat & dog (or other carnivore) poop
- Weeds that have gone to seed (for obvious reasons)
- Diseased plants (you don’t want to spread plant diseases to your compost pile!)
Speed up the Composting (if you want)
Left to their own, these materials will compost. Eventually. If you want to speed the process up, keep the pile moist and aerated.
Keep the pile moist: If the pile is too dry, it won’t compost well. If it’s too wet it won’t either (and might smell bad). The ideal “wetness” is like a moist sponge. Honestly, when I’m watering the garden in the heat of summer, sometimes I’ll spray the pile down too. I’m not in a huge hurry and don’t worry much about it though.
Keep the pile aerated: When you first start the pile, it’s usually nice and aerated. As the materials start to break down, use up oxygen, and compress, the pile gets more matted. If you want to speed up the composting, aerated it a bit with a pitchfork. Again, this is optional and something I only do rarely, because I have plenty of other things I’d rather do with my time!
How can you tell when it’s ready? When your compost smells earthy and looks like rich soil not a pile of leaves, eggshells, and potato peels. Sometimes the bottom layer will be ready first and you can just scoop some out to add to your garden soil.
Go Start Your Compost
Starting a compost pile is about as difficult as doing a load of laundry and NOW is the best time to begin. Just pick your site, add your materials, and wait the pile to turn into rich compost.
Want to start your own garden but don’t know where to begin? Of the stacks of gardening books I’ve read, One Magic Square is hands down my favorite. It’s down-to-earth, informative, upbeat, and inspiring.