Build your own compost pile

While I've featured my compost pile before, I don't think I've dedicated a whole post to it.  We've had a pile below our deck for almost three years now.  It is probably one of the easiest, cheapest, and most rewarding sustainable project you can do.  Here are the instructions for building your own:

  1. Get 4 posts and some chicken wire
  2. Put the posts in the ground in a square pattern.  Wrap chicken wire around posts.
  3. Start putting in compost feed

You want to shoot for a 50/50 mixture of green (high nitrogen) and brown (high carbon) materials.  Think grass clippings vs. wood chips.  Or new dead stuff vs. old dead stuff.  We put the following in our compost:

  • Fruit/Vegetable scraps from the kitchen
  • Paper towels (green friendly cleaning solutions only)
  • Cardboard cereal boxes
  • Leaves, twigs, etc.
  • Coffee grounds
  • Pet hair
  • Dryer lint

What we dont put in the compost:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Carbs (bread/pastas.  They just turn to glue)
  • Plastics
  • Dog poop (high bacteria)

Here's a great list of things you can or can't put in your compost pile.  My neighbor brews his own beer and he brought over the spent grain once, but it was a lot and probably too much for my compost pile.  It started to smell a bit because my mini pile couldn't digest it fast enough.  I've had a couple mishaps, like the time I dumped the paper from the paper shredder in the compost but forgot I shredded a bunch of old credit cards.  Or the time I saw a possum rooting around down there (it was only once, I swear). It requires a little bit of turning to keep oxygen moving in and prevent it from smelling (it's not a bad smell though).

Overall, it's very low maintenance.  I can reach write over the deck and drop stuff in.  It really cuts down on the trash we have to throw away. It's pretty cool to see all the stuff you throw in there turn to dirt in a few months.  It's also rewarding when you start finding a bunch of earthworms. You know they're doing the hard work for you.

I use the compost in my herb garden and hanging tomatoes in the summer.  I wish we had a bigger yard so I had more things to use it on, but hey, dirt doesn't really go bad.   You can also find nice enclosed compost pails that make it easy to turn them.

So what are you waiting for, gardening season is right around the corner!

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We have had an Envirocycle composter for over 12 years. It's much more convenient than a pile because you can turn it very easily. Also the fluids drain into a container in the roller base creating "compost tea" which is an excellent fertilizer when watered down.
Heh, I told my dad about "compost tea" and he thought I was talking about something you would actually drink. He thought I was nuts until that got cleared up. :)
Nice article. Something I've been wanting to do, but I have a few questions. I'm curious if you know of any standard ratio of compost pile to waste. In other words, given a 50/50 mixture how much waste can a square compost pile of size say 4' x 4' handle? and is there any formula that can be applied when the size of the compost pile grows? Also, I live in Asheville NC where many people have compost piles, but I've heard others mention that it produces methane, which sounds logical. However, is the amount of methane significant enough to make a difference? I also haven't been able to find any concrete advice on where to place the compost pile.. ie. shade or sunlight, covered or not. Thanks in advance.
ckmapawatt's picture
Patrick, I'm not sure on the right size. I would suggest building one that can easily handle the amount of waste you're putting in it. The finished product (compost) will break down quite a bit. They do produce methane, but not enough to matter. I'm not sure it matters where it is placed, but you need to make sure the pile gets moisture, so it may dry out in the sun if you don't have a way to water it during long dry spells.

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