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 How To: A collection of composting books

    Photo available on courtesy of This is Green.

    If you are curious about composting, there are a wide variety of books available to help you with your composting needs. Many of these books can serve as a comprehensive guide to compost, or can add to your collection of gardening books at home. Certain books such as Let it Rot! The Gardener’s Guide to Composting are quick and easy reads to really help you with your compost information. This book in particular is an in-depth 160-page analysis of composting, complete with detailed illustrations for those of you who are visual learners.

    Here is a great collection of composting books: