What is Compost?
Compost is the nutrient rich humus that is produced from a layered pile of barnyard manures, kitchen or garden vegetable scraps, tree leaves, weeds, grass clippings, alfalfa pellets(optional) used to jump start your compost pile (more on this later) and or straw. This pile is kept moist and left to decay. In a few months the nutrient rich humus (compost) is ready to add to the garden. Nature does this continually as leaves fall from the trees, grasses brown and decay, trees die and decompose into rich humus. We are trying to imitate nature and use this wonderful product for our gardens.

Why Compost?
The three reasons that many of our gardeners compost are:

  • Compost adds needed nutrients back into the soil.
  • Composting recycles yard, garden and kitchen waste and keeps them out of the already crowded landfills.
  • Compost adds structure to the heavy clay soils and will help sandy soils retain moisture.

Where to Start

First construct a structure to hold your pile. If you like you can purchase one at your local garden center. Below are some examples.

Below is a diagram of the multi-bin system. This three compartment design works great. 


The multi-bin system is great. It allows the gardener to start the layers of manures, straw, leaves etc. in the first bin. When this bin is full and has set for about a month, the pile is turned and mixed into the middle bin. Again in about a month the finished compost is turned into the third bin and is stored there for immediate or future use. The advantage of three bins is that you can have three piles in different stages at the same time and always have finished compost on hand. The wire bin arrangement is quick and inexpensive. Most hardware stores stock wire sheets that have 2 inch to 4 inch squares. The sheet has to be at least 3 feet tall and 8 feet long. When made into a cylindrical cage it should have a diameter no less than three feet.  Keep this pile moist (as moist as a wrung out sponge). Turn the pile over about once a month and in two to four months you will have rich compost!

How do I start building the compost pile?

 The 3-1-3-1 Layering Method
(three inches of browns, one inch of soil, three inches of green...repeat until pile is three to four feet high)

This is the fun part. Basically your pile will be alternating layers of browns (finely crumbled leaves with straw, just straw or a mix of crumbled leaves, straw and aged manure) three inches thick, a one inch of soil or soil/manure mix, and then three inches of chopped-up greens (grass clippings, kitchen scraps and perhaps some re-hydrated alfalfa pellets). The finer you chop or shred your ingredients that faster you will get finished compost.

NOTE: To make the re-hydrated alfalfa fill a five gallon bucket 1/4 full of dried alfalfa pellets (this is rabbit food available in 50 lb. bags at any feed store) and fill to top with water. In one day this will form a green mush that is rich in nutrients. Pour this mush on top of the pile.

It seems to work best when the bottom layer is dried browns such as straw or a finely crumbled leaf/straw mix. Make this layer about 3 inches deep. Next add one inch of garden soil or better yet, garden soil/manure mix, then add three inches of chopped greens such as kitchen scraps or grass clippings. It is best to mix the grass clippings with other things in this layer as the grass tends to clump into clods if not.  Keep repeating these layers until your compost pile is about 3 to 4 feet high.

If you have enough material to build your pile up to three feet it will start to "cook". In one day come back to your pile and stick your hand down about 6 inches. You should feel quite a bit of heat generated as your pile "cooks".

Now you should check on your pile weekly to make sure it is moist but not soggy. Add water if it is too dry. In one month you should mix up your pile. Yes, mix it up good. A garden "pitch" fork works for this or there are compost turning sticks found in most seed catalogs. In two to four months your pile is done.

Below is some finished compost ready to add to the garden.

Most gardener's that compost have their own methods that work. Be creative but a rule of thumb is never add meat, bones, carnivore feces or human feces to your pile. You will find out that orange peels take forever to break down so keep citrus peels out as well. Also only add grass clippings that have NOT had herbicides (you know the "weed and feed" fertilizers) applied to them.

Hint: Starbucks is happy to give you their coffee grounds. Add them to your pile in either your brown or green layer.

Happy composting!

Building a Compost Pile