Sustainability 101: Building A Compost Pile

A thriving compost pile can provide plenty of nutrient rich soil for a healthy garden and you can compost anywhere.

Building a beautiful compost pile is as much art as science. Rich compost can help any garden, even a container garden, thrive and produce and abundance of healthy food. Compost can provide all the nutrients and fertilizer your garden will need if you pay attention to a few simple guidelines.


Compost piles don’t need to be actual piles. If space is limited, you can easily use a small barrel compost bin or even an under-the-sink model. And if you don’t have space for these, consider using coffee grounds. Just spread them around your plants. Starbucks coffee shops will even supply you with coffee grounds – just ask for the Grounds for Your Garden.

Build your pile with two sections if possible so you can use one side while the other is composting. Here is a good resource with plans for small compost barrels and for larger compost bins.


If you choose to make your own or purchase one, placement of the compost bin is important. You want a spot that gets some shade during the hottest part of the day. You will need space to flip the pile too, so make sure there is room to maneuver. If you have a lot of larger trees around your proposed site, consider putting pavers down first to prevent the tree roots from coming up from underneath and taking the nutrients.


Just adding kitchen any old kitchen scrap to a pile won’t make a compost pile. A healthy compost pile is made up of three things: brown stuff like dry leaves, green stuff like fruit and veggie scraps, and water. The addition of soil from time to time can help a compost pile grow faster.

You want to start with a brown layer of crunched up leaves, chopped straw, or chipped brush. The smaller the pieces the faster the composting. After the brown, add in some green. Green layers are food scraps, garden waste and grass. Go easy on the grass especially if it is heavy or wet as this can just mold without proper air circulation. Now throw on a layer of soil.At this point a layer of horse, cow or rabbit manure can help to jump start your compost pile. Keep repeating the layers until you have two or three sets of layers.

If you have a wood stove or wood ash available, it makes a good addition to the compost pile. Just make sure it is completely cold before adding it in.


To keep your pile nice and healthy, you need to keep it moist and well aerated. This means you should plan on flipping it at least weekly during the warmest part of the year and watering it when you water your garden. A dry compost pile will stall out and not break down.


When the compost is ready, you will need to screen it before you start putting in the garden. You can make a simple frame of scrap wood and staple a sturdy wire fence on it or you can purchase one like this.

Screen out the bigger pieces of material that have not composted fully. A healthy compost pile will have lots of worms too. Put the worms and the larger pieces of compost either back into the pile or in to the second bin. By having two piles you can be using one side while the other is still working.

Image Credit: Flickr – kthread

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