Materials to Use Minimally or Not at

If you need to use manures and/or less desirable materials in your compost pile, they should make up only Vis of your pile by volume so their less optimum effects will be minimized. Some materials should not be used in the preparation of compost, including

  • Plants infected with a disease or a severe insect attack where eggs could be preserved or where the insects themselves could survive in spite of the compost pile's heat
  • Poisonous plants, such as oleander, hemlock, and castor beans, which harm soil life
  • Plants that take too long to break down, such as magnolia leaves
  • Plants that have acids toxic to other plants and microbial life, such as eucalyptus, California bay laurel, walnut, juniper, acacia, and cypress
  • Plants that may be too acidic or contain substances that interfere with the decomposition process—such as pine needles, which are extremely acidic and contain a form of kerosene (However, special compost piles are often made of acidic materials, such as pine needles and leaves. This compost will lower the soil's pH and stimulate acid-loving plants like strawberries.)
  • Ivy and succulents, which may not be killed in the heat of the decomposition process and can regrow when the compost is placed in a planting bed
  • Pernicious weeds, such as wild morning glory and Bermuda grass, which will probably not be killed in the decomposition process and will choke out other plants when they resprout after the compost is placed in a planting
  • Cat and dog manures, which can contain pathogens harmful to infants. These pathogens are not always killed in the heat of the compost pile

Plants infected with disease or insects and pernicious weeds should be burned to be destroyed properly. Their ashes then become good fertilizer. The ashes will also help control harmful soil insects, such as carrot worms, which shy away from the alkalinity of ashes. (Use ashes in moderate amounts.)

Parts of a regular compost pile that have not broken down completely by the end of the composting period should be placed at the bottom of a new pile. This is especially true for twigs and small branches that can use the extra protection of the pile's height to speed up their decomposition in a situation of increased warmth and moisture.


Improved Structure—compost breaks up clay and clods, and binds together sandy soil. Helps make proper aeration in clayey and sandy soil possible.

Moisture Retention—compost holds 6 times its own weight in water. A soil with good organic matter content soaks up rain like a sponge and regulates the supply to plants. A soil stripped of organic matter resists water penetration, thus leading to crusting, erosion, and flooding.

Aeration—plants can obtain 96% of the nutrients they need from the air, sun, and water. A loose, healthy soil assists in diffusing air and moisture into the soil and in exchanging nutrients. Carbon dioxide released by organic matter decomposition diffuses out of the soil and is absorbed by the canopy of leaves above in a raised bed mini-climate created by closely spaced plants.

Fertilization—compost contains some nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and sulfur but is especially important for trace elements. The important principle is to return to the earth, by the use of plant residues and manures, all that has been taken out of it.

Nitrogen Storage—the compost pile is a storehouse for nitrogen. Because it is tied up in the compost-breakdown process, water-soluble nitrogen does not leach out or oxidize into the air for a period of 3 to 6 months or more—depending on how the pile is built and maintained.

pH Buffer—a good percentage of compost in the soil allows plants to grow better in less-than-optimal pH situations.

Soil Toxin Neutralizer—important recent studies show that plants grown in organically composted soils take up less lead, heavy metals, and other urban pollutants.

Nutrient Release—organic acids dissolve soil minerals and make them available to plants. As organic matter decomposes, it releases nutrients for plant uptake and for the soil microbial population.

Food for Microbial Life—good compost creates healthy conditions for organisms that live in the soil. Compost harbors earthworms and beneficial fungi that fight nematodes and other soil pests.

The Ultimate in Recycling—the earth provides us with food, clothing, and shelter, and we close the cycle in offering fertility, health, and life through the shepherding of materials.


In order to maintain good soil fertility, approximately 4% to 6% (by weight) organic matter is needed in temperate soils. About 3% is desirable in tropical soils. It is noteworthy that the soil organic matter level used to be measured 11 inches deep many years ago. Later, the measurement level was reduced to 62/ inches. Today, it has been further reduced to less than 6 inches deep.



  1. Under the pile area (3 or 4 square feet), loosen the soil to 12 inches deep with a spading fork.
  2. Lay down roughage (brush, corn stalks, or other material), 3 inches thick, if it is available, for air circulation.
  3. Put down a 2-inch layer of dry vegetation—dry weeds, leaves, straw, dry grass clippings, hay, and old garden wastes. Water it thoroughly.
  4. Put down a 2-inch layer of green vegetation and kitchen wastes—fresh weeds, grass clippings, hedge trimmings, green cover crops, and kitchen wastes you have saved. Water well.
  5. Cover lightly with a V4- to V2-inch layer of soil to prevent flies and odors. Moisten the soil.
  6. Add new layers of dry vegetation, green vegetation, kitchen waste, and soil as materials become available until the pile is 3 to 4 feet high.
  7. Cover the top of the pile with a V2- to 1-inch layer of soil.
  8. Water the completed pile regularly until it is ready for use.
  9. Let the completed pile cure 3 to 6 months while you are building a new pile. Turn the pile once for faster decomposition. For planning purposes, remember that a 4-foot-high compost pile will be 1 to 1V3 feet high when it is ready to use

We sometimes build a compost pile on an unused growing bed so the next crop grown in that bed will pick up and utilize any nutrients leached out from the pile into the soil. The next season we build compost on another unused growing bed.

Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn't know what to do? Here are the best tips on how to become a true and envied organic gardner.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment