As a gardener, you need nutrient-rich soil to ensure your plants grow the way you need them to. As a soil maker, your compost pile needs things from you to ensure your soil is how you need to use it.
Without proper care, your compost pile can turn into anything from a hard rock of partially rotted food to a wet and soggy rotting mess.
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How Do I Start a Compost Pile?
To give your compost pile the best start, you will want to include the best ingredient mixture possible.
When first creating your compost pile, the list of things it needs is relatively small. These things, however, are necessary to allow your waste to begin to break down into the soil you desire.
Once your pile is established, it will still need maintenance. Luckily, the beginning is the part that requires the most work, and once things are off and moving on their own, you can maintain them weekly or bi-weekly.
Give Your Compost Pile Enough Room
Composted soil is incredibly compacted when it has finished. However, during the decomposition process, it can take up quite a lot of room.
You can slightly remedy this by making sure you break any big pieces down into smaller pieces. However, you will still need a bin large enough to handle the amount of waste you add to your compost pile.
If you do not have an actual compost bin, one great option is an unused 33-gallon trash can. Yes, you will be introducing “trash” to your compost pile. However, a bin that has been used before may contain bacteria that are harmful to your compost pile.
It is best to be safe in this area, so your composted soil has a better chance of getting off to a great start.
Compost Piles Need Air
Part of the reason compost waste breaks down the way it does is due to proper air circulation. Your container must allow adequate ventilation. If it does not, you will need to drill or cut air holes in the container for this.
A compost pile without proper aeration turns into a rotting mess without giving you the soil you need for your garden.
Keep Things Moist
As part of the decomposition process, your compost pile will need to be moistened until just damp and kept that way. If it is allowed to dry out completely, it will not progress into soil and rot into a soggy mess.
If it has been raining, your compost pile should be sufficiently watered. However, if the weather has been dry, you will need to water it yourself. As you water it, be sure not to get it sopping wet. Instead, keep it damp without dripping wet.
Your Compost Pile Must Be Balanced
When you add ingredients to your compost pile, they need to be balanced between green and brown elements. In short, green ingredients are things such as vegetable scraps, and browns are things that were once alive but are processed and no longer are such as sawdust or paper.
Compost consists of green (nitrogen) materials, brown (carbon) materials, air, and water.
Like other things your compost pile needs you to keep balanced, an improper balance of greens and browns can lead to a rotting, stinking pile of trash rather than garden soil.
Compost Piles Must Be Fed
Your compost pile will need you to feed it regularly. This essentially means just adding more compostable materials to it. It should be obvious why, but this is to ensure your pile continues to make soil.
Again, when you add ingredients, try to balance greens and browns, so your compost pile thrives.
Keep a bucket or other container in your kitchen and add it to your compost nightly or every other night.
Compost Piles Must Be Turned
Once your compost pile is established, the work it requires significantly decreases. You can often cut it to as little as weekly or bi-weekly.
To maintain things, use a garden shovel to turn the pile over several times. This action helps to churn ingredients that have already begun to break down with ones that have not. It also helps to give proper circulation deep within the pile where your air holes may not be reaching.
Composted soil takes several months to fully complete. You will know it is ready when it resembles potting soil from the store. It may be darker and have a different texture, but that is a good thing.
The darker color indicates the earth itself is exceptionally nutrient-rich, and that is precisely what a gardener wants.
To plant with your composted soil, mix it with organic fertilizer or manure and plant as you would with any dirt. It is just as great in potted plants as it is in garden rows, and can be used to grow flowers or vegetables.
Composting Pile FAQs
Still have questions about composting piles? Here are answers to the ones that get asked frequently.
Compost Pile vs Bin?
Choosing between the two can be quite a challenge as both have their advantages and disadvantages. Compost piles are your traditional way of putting carbon and nitrogen substances in a heap, which transform into compost with enough time, heat, and moisture. Whilst a compost bin will hide all your kitchen scraps, grass clippings, paper, and other trash away from view.
Can You Start a Compost Pile in the Winter?
You certainly can start a compost pile during the winter. Just keep in mind that it will take much longer for the composting materials to start breaking down.
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