How to build a compost pile

A compost pile is literally what it sounds like: a pile of compost in your yard to use as rich, fertile soil for your garden. Of course, a compost pile doesn’t just “happen” – you have to build one. Do not fret, for it is a simple process. By following certain guidelines, you can ensure that you have a proper compost pile in our lawn.

First things first, make sure you have a large surface area for your compost pile. The larger the surface area, the quicker your organic material will decompose. When selecting the area of your lawn to create a compost pile, the following is highly important:


You want the area that you are creating the compost pile on to be able to touch the ground. Placing your compost pile on wood for instance can cause the wood to decay. Try to avoid the compost pile touching any buildings. In addition, you want the surface area of which the compost pile is to be placed on to be level, and with good drainage. Make sure the compost pile is in a convenient location, so you can access it with ease.


You want the size of your compost pile to have the same dimensions throughout. Ideal sizes for your compost pile will range from 3x3x3 to 5x5x5.

Now that you’ve got location and size settled upon, now what?

So, now you’ve selected your location and you are aware of what size you want your compost pile to be. Next comes the construction of the compost pile. The most important thing you can do when creating your pile is to layer your materials. A good compost pile has an equal balance of Nitrogen rich materials (fruit peelings, vegetable trimmings, etc) and Carbon rich materials (sawdust, newspaper strips, leaves, etc).

The easiest way to maintain this balance and to have your compost pile work efficiently is to alternate layers between Nitrogen and Carbon rich materials. You want to start with Nitrogen rich materials closer to the ground. This will also help keep animals and pests away from the compost pile.

Ideal Layer Structure:

  • Nitrogen Rich Organic Material
  • Carbon Rich MaterialJust repeat the layers on top of one another and you should be good. You can also cover these two layers with an additional layer of compost starter and soil. If this is the case that is fine, but then make sure you repeat the cycle if you are adding new layers to your compost pile.
    In addition, you may cover your compost pile if you so desire, however this is not necessary and will certainly not make or break a good compost pile. The purpose of doing so is to help reduce drying of the organic material and to keep the compost pile moist. In addition, it may help retain heat for the compost pile – a hotter pile will decompose quickly and efficiently.


    The following things are not recommended for your compost pile:

  • Bones
  • Cheese
  • Diseased Plants
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Milk (or any other dairy product for that matter)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Vacuum Bags (or any other sort of item as such that will contain a lot of dust)
  • Don’t forget to make sure that compost piles are allowed in your city. If not, use a compost bin instead.

    Composting in Bins

    Tumbleweed compost bin

    When composting, compost bins offer several advanatages over unrestrained compost piles. Composters are aesthetically superior, they offer protection against the elements, they prevent animals and invasive roots from stealing nutrients, and they make it easy to transport finished humus. Compost bins are also easier to work with than compost piles, so they save time and reduce back strain.

    Compost bins are much nicer to look at than unorganized compost heaps. Scrap piles have a habit of losing their shape as the contents break down, and they often collapse to cover large areas with decomposing waste. Bins contain the scraps and provide both support and structure. This keeps the compost compressed, which helps retain heat and accelerates decomposition.

    Compost bins also protect bacteria from temperature and humidity extremes. The walls of the composter offer insulation from the cold, and they also help transform sunlight into usable energy while blocking lethal UV rays. When it rains or snows, the lid of a compost bin keeps excess moisture from drowning the compost. Many compost bins are also designed to promote drainage of excess water. Excessive water can asphyxiate the bacteria that breakdown organic waste. When aerobic bacteria die off, smelly anaerobic bacteria take over and slow down the composting process.

    Animals are often attracted by the smell of decomposing waste. The strudy walls of a compost bin will often keep scavengers like rats, birds, and racoons out of the compost. There are some compost bins that are even designed to keep bears away with airtight seals or strong, metal walls. When animals find compost piles, they often make a big mess and steal away the ingredients.

    Plants can also affect compost piles. If there are trees or vines nearby that grow aggressively, their roots wil find the compost pile and siphon away valuable nutrients. Weeds can also deposit their seeds on open air compost piles, and those seeds will germinate when the soil is used later as a fertilizer. With a closed compost bin, roots and wind blown seeds have no way to reach the compost. If any seeds from the waste ingredients try to sprout inside the compost bin, they will die due to a lack of sunlight.

    Compost bins and pails are easy to move around. This makes it easy to use the finished compost and transport it to wherever you need it. There’s no need to strain your back digging up finished waste or lifting shovelfuls of dirt into a wheel barrel. Instead, you can just push the composter over to your garden and pour out rich, fluffy soil.

    Photo courtesy of Jan Van Raay at More at