How to Make a Compost Pile in Your Backyard

Do you think about ways you can reduce your carbon footprint? Do you worry about the amount of trash that your household generates? An effective and easy solution exists that can benefit both you and the environment. It doesn’t cost much to get started, either. Does it sound like a plan? Keep reading to learn how to make a compost pile in your backyard.

Consider the benefits that composting offers. You can reduce waste substantially. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States generated 267.8 million tons of trash in 2017. Sadly, only 25 percent was recycled along with only another 10 percent, composted.

Sounds pretty dismal, doesn’t it?

If you set up a compost pile in your yard, you can get some ready-to-use organic matter to improve the soil structure and nutrient base of your garden. That means a better harvest and cost-savings for your family’s food budget. You’ll also do your part to fight climate change by lowering the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that your food scraps create in a landfill.

Let’s get composting!

Step 1: Ask Permission First

Even though composting is environmentally friendly, you should still check with your local government to make sure you can create a compost pile. The same advice applies to your homeowner association. You’re more likely to encounter regulations if you live in a suburb or urban area because of odor and pest concerns.

Step 2: Select Your Site

You’ll need a place away from the living quarters or parts that you use regularly because a compost pile will produce some odors. We’d suggest a flat area that gets at least partial sunlight. Heat is a part of the equation. Plan on a heap at least 3 feet. A site with well-draining soil is ideal for creating the optimal conditions for decomposition.

Other factors to keep in mind include:

  • Access to water to keep the compost pile from drying out
  • Proximity to your garden to make sure of the material it’s creating.
  • Aesthetic considerations

A fallow patch of ground is the proverbial win-win. It has contact with the ground so that it can replenish its nutrient base. Avoid starting a compost pile on asphalt or concrete. Bear in mind that the decomposition process will produce a lot of heat. Make sure your compost pile isn’t too close to anything it could damage.

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Step 3: Gather Your Starter Materials

The raw materials that you need for your compost pile are carbon and nitrogen. They provide the base for bacteria and other microbes to do their work. Oxygen from the air is vital since they are aerobic or oxygen-loving. Moisture is also necessary for the microbes and other organisms living on the site. Each component finds its way into the process of how to make a compost pile in your backyard.

Some excellent carbon sources are things like wood chips, mulch, leaves, or paper waste. Plant materials like grass clippings are rich sources of nitrogen. The scraps that you’d add from the kitchen will also contribute significant amounts. Good things to add include:

  • Dead houseplants
  • Coffee grounds
  • Spent annual plants
  • Fruits and vegetable peels
  • Yard waste
  • Nutshells

There are also things you shouldn’t put in your compost pile for a variety of reasons from the risk of disease to odors to an attractant for pests. Some examples are:

  • Meat scraps
  • Pesticide-treated yard trimmings
  • Used cooking oil
  • Pet waste

Step 4: Keep it Contained

We’d suggest making some kind of barrier around your compost pile, such as a chicken wire fence. It will help contain everything and keep your pets away from the contents. You also may find it helpful to block off visible sides with black plastic. That will ensure that everything heats up to at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit to speed up the chemical reactions going on inside the heap.

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Step 5: Build Your Foundation Layer

Begin with a carbon layer like those wood chips is an excellent way to keep the weeds at bay. Add at least a 4-inch layer. Lightly moisten the materials using a garden hose or water can with a sprinkler nozzle. It’s essential not to douse it because that will displace oxygen which the bacteria and microbes need to survive.

Step 6: Add Some Nitrogen to the Mix

Now, the time is for your kitchen scraps and waste. Again, shoot for at least a 4-inch layer to provide an adequate base for decomposition to occur. Sprinkle water on the materials to moisten them. Remember that a compost pile is a work in progress. Add more scraps as you get them, dampening them with water as you go.

Step 7: Rinse and Repeat

Continue alternating carbon and nitrogen layers until the compost pile is about waist-high. That amount is necessary for generating enough heat. Precipitation will likely take over the watering end of things. However, don’t hesitate to cover the heap if a heavy downpour is on the way. Likewise, water it if the contents appear dry, which can also slow decomposition.

Step 8: Stir it Up

As the materials decompose, they will likely get more compacted. That will reduce the amount of oxygen and slow down the process. It may also produce unpleasant odors. The solution is to ensure that the bacteria have enough air. That means turning over the contents of the compost pile at least once a week. A shovel or garden fork will suffice.

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Step 9: Keep an Eye on the Progress

It’s imperative to keep track of how things are progressing in your compost pile to make adjustments as necessary. It’s also vital to an eye open for evidence of pests like rodents or raccoons. Let’s face. There are a lot of things in the heap that would attract a hungry animal on the hunt for an easy meal. That’s another reason why you shouldn’t put it too close to your house.

Step 10: It’s All About the Humus

The end result of all your hard work and careful maintenance is the humus. It is the nutrient-rich organic material that is the product of decomposition of all the stuff you’ve put in your compost pile. It’s what you’ll add to your garden to supply what your plants will need to thrive. This part of the process takes time, often several months, depending on the size of the heap and its contents.

Humus has a pleasant, earthy smell. You can work into your garden soil with a rake or hoe. It will improve the soil structure and its ability to retain water. Your plants will also benefit from the nitrogen that the humus contains. You’ll need less fertilizer for the next batch of tomatoes that you grow.

Final Thoughts

If you recycle, adding composting to your plan for managing your household’s trash is an excellent way to get rid of scraps while providing a ready source of nutrients for your garden. You’ll also do your part to reduce municipal waste and reduce greenhouse emissions. Luckily, it’s not difficult or expensive. Learning how to make a compost pile in your backyard is the right thing to do for the environment.