How To Get A Compost Pile Started With No Fuss

Written By Jenn

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Starting a compost pile can seem overwhelming, when you are new to composting and you read all the dos and don’ts.

It’s a bit like cooking. I ate a lot of frozen fish fingers when I was learning to cook. Don’t laugh! I had to start somewhere. Of course, now I am a pretty good cook, but it is through experience and trial and error that I have improved. I’ve moved on from fish fingers.

Composting at home is like that. So if you make mistakes, it is just something that you learn along the way. Don’t be too fussed by it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get started.

How To Get a Compost Pile Started

I have two lots of instructions for you.

1. Basic Things To Do. If you can’t do everything, that’s OK.

2. How To Start The Pile and get it going .

Basic Things To Do To Start The Compost Pile

The Location

When choosing a location the main requirements are space, the pile needs to be at least 4ft x 4ft, near a water source if possible and on flat ground.

It is best not to place the pile directly under a tree, as the roots of the tree may interfere with the pile. You don’t want to have to deal with tree roots invading the compost.

We had tree roots invading our raised garden planters and it was a bit of a nightmare to sort out and involved removing all of the soil.

how to get a compost pile started

Consider your neighbors when working out the best place for the pile. Some open piles can be smelly. We also had a neighbor with a compost pile right at our fence line, and the pile attracted rats—not good, unless you are The Pied Piper.

Under eaves is not a good idea as it may be too dry and avoid making a compost pile against any wooden structure as rot may occur in the structure.

Ideally the pile should not be too far from the house so that you don’t have to walk a mile with the kitchen scraps. 

So first things first, choose a spot for the pile.

If a pile seems too difficult, I would suggest getting a basic compost bin like the one below. No need to spend big bucks.

The same concepts apply as described above when starting the pile, except that you are now putting everything into the compost bin. You won’t have to consider the neighbours as the compost bin I have shown below is enclosed. Placing the bin in full sunlight will ensure that it heats up inside which will speed up decomposition.

Azaeahom Outdoor Compost Bin 80 Gallon (300L) Large, Garden Composter from PP Material,Composting Box Easy Assembly & Many Vents, Create Fertile Soil Fast, Lightweight & Sturdy

What Can Go Into The Pile?

Materials for the compost pile are broadly divided into two categories: green or nitrogen-rich materials and brown or carbon-rich materials.

Green Composting Materials

Green materials include fruit and vegetable peelings, lawn clippings, plant cuttings, hair and coffee grounds. 

Brown Composting materials

Brown or carbon rich materials include dead leaves, twigs, paper, hay, dried plants and woody cuttings.

I will include a link to another post about what can and can’t go in the compost pile but in the meantime here is a comprehensive list.

What Not To Do To Your New Compost Pile/Bin

Note: if you have already done some of these things, that’s ok, fix it if you can, if you can’t just proceed in the correct way.

Don’t add meat or fatty products to the compost.

Don’t add large amounts of any one material to the pile as it may clump together and result in a smelly situation, for example grass clippings. Grass clippings love to clump together.

Don’t allow the pile to become too dry or too wet, damp is fine.

Keeping the compost pile damp but not wet

Don’t put food scraps right onto the top of an open pile, make sure they are buried otherwise the pile may attract unwanted visitors in the form of small animals or rodents.

If you are using a compost bin, no problem, take the lid off and pop in the food scraps, then replace the lid. Bob’s your uncle and everything is good.

Don’t compost human, cat or dog waste; all contain pathogens that are not safe for humans. Sometimes you will read that this is ok. It can be, but honestly for the average home composter I would say don’t do it. If I change my mind I will come back here and add more details.

How To Start The Compost Pile

Start with a layer of carbon materials about 4’ to 6’’ thick, then add nitrogen rich materials.   Remember the carbon materials are the brown materials, twigs, dried leaves, shredded paper etc

Add a layer of soil.

Use some commercial compost accelerator to really kick start things. This is not compulsory. I don’t use it but then again it didn’t exist when I started composting.

Continue layering, adding greens and browns to the pile in a layered fashion. If you think you have too many browns, they can be left nearby to be added after some greens have been added.

Layering greens and browns in the compost pile

It is useful to have some browns waiting. I usually have some shredded paper waiting in the composting wings to go into the compost bin as required.

Often the greens can contain a fair amount of liquid or even be a bit slimy if they have been hanging around ready to go into the compost, so having some shredded or torn paper already ready is useful.

Get Great Results

Turn the contents regularly using a pitchfork or a compost turner. Actually do a quick skim read of the post about using a compost turner as there is information about inserting including a pvc pipe with predrilled holes, upright into the middle of your new compost pile bin before even starting. If the thought of this gives you a headache just forget about it for the moment.

Turning the compost will help break up any matted materials and also allow oxygen into the pile, which helps with the decomposition process.

Ensure that the size of the materials is reasonable; the smaller the size, the more surface area for the microorganisms to work on.

Once you have compost making under control you can make your own compost tea. This equates to liquid compost and gives a good boost to your garden, be it large or small.

Paper should be shredded or torn.

You don’t need to get too technical about the construction but do remember to layer the ingredients, have a reasonable uniform size of product, keep the pile damp and turn regularly.

I am not saying that you will be making mistakes but just in case you want to read about what can go wrong, here are a few things that can can go astray.

composting worm
I can’t wait to start munching!

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