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What To Know Before Starting Your First Compost Pile

June 16, 2009

photo by Joi

photo by Joi

Composting is a perennial topic that many gardeners pay much attention to all year long.  You may treat it as a science project; where you add special additives and measure the composting ingredients down to the teaspoon or you create a monitoring system that surveys every inch of rot.  Yet some of you may prefer a carefree pile of material that would be characterized as a big mound of stuff.  Not much attention is paid to this type of compost pile, so when it happens, it happens.

If you want to get technical, there’s actually a science to the process, and having good organizational skills can be helpful in your journey to good compost.  Many of you want immediate results, which is possible with attention and drive.  Otherwise with carefree composting, the result, commonly known as ‘black gold’, can take up to a year.

Things to consider:

  • What kind of compost system is right for you? If you have a lot of yard space, there is not much of a problem.  But what if you don’t?  There seems to be a demand for smaller or mini enclosed composting bins.  There are many styles of compost bins that fit into somewhat tidy spaces but most are too large or a bit unsightly for balconies or patios.
  • Where are you going to perform nature’s miracle? Put the composter near your garden or where you will be using your compost, possibly between your garden and your potting shed (this may seem like a no-brainer but I can’t tell you how many times I would start a project far from its destination and end up having to spend buckets of energy moving it).
  • Are you ready for the maintenance? As an aspiring composter, you’ll soon notice the serious pest magnet you’ve just created;  everything from fruit flies, to mammals, to the lowest forms of cretin rummaging through your compost pile.  Some of these creatures are wanted and some very much unwanted.

Types of Composting Systems

  • Three Compartment System Three sections made from wood, mesh or even brick that separates each stage of composting.  The first section is the initial pile then you would turn it to the next section and the third section would contain the finished compost (see example).
  • Enclosed Bin Systems These would be any of the self contained commercial bins that you can purchase at a local garden store.  You can also make your own out of buckets and garbage cans (just make sure they are larger than three by three feet to ensure the pile will get hot enough).  For small space gardens, look into a compost tumbler. See our review from a previous blog post, Compost Tumblers Great for Small Spaces and Tidy Gardeners.
  • Freestyle Pile This would be the throw-it-in-a-corner-and-let-it-become method.

Tools Make Composting Easier

  • Sturdy shovel for moving piles from one place to the next
  • Pitchfork for turning and mixing
  • Hoe and rake for spreading
  • Wheelbarrow for moving finished compost across the yard or mixing up ingredients
  • Cutting tools for breaking down larger items into smaller pieces (see tips for speeding up your compost pile)
  • Aerating tools and thermometers for fast composting

Compost or not to compost that is the question

You can purchase good quality compost from local garden stores, or your city may even have their own recycling service that supplies compost to the community.  Composting is easy to do once you get set up.  You can get great satisfaction in creating compost from your own kitchen waste and using it to enrich your soil in the garden.  It’s the ultimate in recycling.  You can also reduce your landfill contribution and your carbon footprint because you won’t be buying compost from stores that truck it in from hundred of miles away.

Well, are you ready?  Go find the perfect spot for your system or bin, get your tools organized and come back for more.  There is much more to do.  What do you compostHow to get quicker results.  There’s also composting with worms.

Has anyone found an easy to use composting bin? What works for you?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2009 5:42 pm

    Since I have geese, I need an enclosed system…I don’t want to have an open system that will attract creatures like raccoons that are a threat to them. So far, I actually have gathered their poop, let it break down a bit,then have used that in my garden. Works fine! Great post, by the way…

  2. June 19, 2009 6:49 pm

    wow good idea with the geese. those racoons are certainly pests. they will get into just about anything for a snack. an enclosed system does sound like the best choice and also nice and tidy.


  1. Composting Your Own - What to Know | The Sketch Book and Shovel

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