Composting 101: Tips to Get Your Compost Pile Started

Looking to create a compost pile out of your everyday food waste? Sure, there’s a lot that goes into the composting process. But, thankfully, it’s easy to get started! Here are a few “Composting 101” tips to get your own compost pile started.

Great compost pile starters rich in nitrogen jump-start your compost pile

Nitrogen is the key ingredient in jump-starting the microbes which break down organic matter into compost. Great compost pile starters include aged manure, alfalfa meal, blood meal, or cottonseed meal. There’s also straight-up compost starter you can buy.

Have a good mix of “greens” and “browns” in your compost pile

Compost pile starters plus grass clippings add the necessary nitrogen to break down organic matter. But you also need the “brown” items to add the carbon. A great brown item is shredded newspaper or shredded plain white copy paper.

You need both “green” and brown items to  have the quick decomposition that leads to rich compost. Without “brown” carbon-rich items, the composting process will  slow down and the pile will begin to stink. You want to have a relatively equal weight of both “green” and “brown” items to maximize effectiveness. Also, the more green items you add, the less water you need to add.

Do not compost fats, dairy & meats, or pet droppings.

While there are ways to safely compost an8mal products, they are not for your typical compost pile. These items will attract pests & can cause a spread of disease. Unless you want to take the special actions required to compost these items, you’ll want to completely avoid them when composting.

The perfect size for a compost pile is at least 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet and the best material to use is a bin made from wooden pallets.

A 3-ft cubed pile is the best size for a compost pile for a couple of reasons. It’s a manageable size to turn when adding new items. Also, it’s the best shape and size to retain heat while also allowing for a good air flow.

The best starting point for a compost pile is to build a bin made from clean wooden pallets. All you have to do is start with one pallet on the ground. Then, you drive two metal stakes into each side of the pallet. Lastly, you slide additional wooden pallets over each of these supports. Your bin is ready for compost!

Feed your compost pile in meals, not just snacks

Keep in mind that the more that you add to your pile at once, the more it heats up. Heat is very good for compost. This means that you want to save items to add until it’s a “supersize” meal rather than just little snacks here and there.

The optimal temperature for your compost pile should be between 120 to 160 degrees F. This is when the material decomposes the fastest. While a lower temperature will still allow for decomposition, it will take much longer. There are compost thermometers you can buy to measure the core temperature of your compost bin or pile.

Finished compost should just look like dark-colored dirt.

When it’s done, your compost pile should not only look like rich, dark soil, it should also feel and smell like it, too. You shouldn’t be able to see any remnants of items that you put into it.  You may also noticed that finished compost will be typically half of the volume of the items you started with, but it’s also denser.

Congratulations!  With this crash course in “Composting 101,” you’re well on your way to having an awesome compost pile!

For additional reference, here are 50 things you can safely & easily compost, thanks to The Spruce. You can also find more great composting tips & tricks from Planet Natural.