Getting your compost pile started

A well-constructed and well-maintained pile provides the proper amount of water and oxygen for aerobic bacteria, which are the best decomposing microbes; they work quickly, generating heat as a byproduct of their activity. This heat helps material break down quickly and kills many diseases, insects, and weed seeds. Containing your compost pile makes it look neater, helps you maintain the correct moisture, and prevents animals from getting into it.

Here's what you need to know to build a good compost pile:

1. Choose a shady location that's out of the way but still within view so that you don't forget about the pile.

The soil under the site should be well drained.

You can build your own (see Figure 5-2) or buy a commercial home composting unit, like those shown in Figure 5-3.

3. Add dry materials.

Add a 6-inch layer of dry (brown) organic matter — such as hay, straw, old leaves, or sawdust — to the bottom of the container.

4. Add fresh materials.

Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of fresh (green) organic matter — such as grass clippings, manure, table scraps, or even high-nitrogen fertilizer such as cottonseed meal — on top of the dry layer. For advice on choosing your ingredients, go to "Choosing materials to compost," later in this chapter.

5. Keep adding these layers, watering each one as you go, until the pile is 4 to 5 feet tall and fills the bin.

A smaller pile won't heat up well enough to break down the materials, and a larger pile can be difficult to manage.

6. In two days, mix the layers thoroughly.

Particle size should be varied; smaller particles hasten decomposition.

7. Cover the pile with a tarp to keep rain away and preserve moisture.

If the pile gets too soggy or too dry, it won't heat up.

Figure 5-2:

A simple wooden bin you can make yourself.

Figure 5-2:

A simple wooden bin you can make yourself.

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Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

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