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How to start your own compost pile

How to start your own compost pile

Photo by Lenka Dzurendova on Unsplash

Home & Garden

How to start your own compost pile

Making your own compost is an easy way to reduce waste and provide cheap nourishment for your garden. Read about how to start your own compost pile or bin in your yard.

The first step in getting a compost heap going is accumulating material to be composted. I keep a 5-gallon pail with a lid on it just outside the back door. You can keep it in the kitchen if you want, but make sure the lid has a good seal; you don't want to attract cockroaches or ants or other pests. 

I use that pail to collect all my day-to-day kitchen scraps that are not animal based – that is, things that are not meat or dairy. I include things like:

Breakfast: banana peel, coffee grounds, tea bags 
Lunch: scraps left over from the salad or whatever you were making
Dinner: those scraps and ends from vegetables, all of the ends from broccoli stems, all the ends any onions chopped up or any vegetable, the brownish outer leaves, the wilted part of anything

I collect all that stuff in a big bowl as I cook and take it outside to the pail. Then, once a day, I empty that bucket into the next container, which is my large compost container. These come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. It can be a compost bin. I have a large bin that’s 50 gallons or more. But it could also be a compost drum that you turn with a handle, or even just a pile in your backyard.

Protecting your compost pile
If you do decide to start a compost pile in your backyard and you don't have a lid on your compost, you must cover it with dirt regularly. You can't have raw melon rinds out there and different scraps in plain view, uncovered, or you will attract lots of pests that you don't want, including cockroaches, raccoons, maybe even rats.

What you do want to invite into your compost are beneficial critters: earthworms, grub worms, friendly bacteria and fungi. They're going to break down the matter that you put out there in your compost pile or bin or drum.

And you do that by getting the right combination of nitrogen and carbon. Fortunately for me and everybody else, you don't need to know the exact ratio of nitrogen to carbon. The way to achieve that ratio without remembering the number is simply to have your compost be half green and half brown, and to keep it wet. Just put in layers, half green and half brown.

What do I mean by green? By green I mean:
• Green grass clippings
• Green plant matter from the garden, things you trim off while doing your gardening activities
• Green weeds you've pulled
• Green table scraps, like the ends of broccoli and lettuce
• Seaweed and pond algae count as green materials too, if you have a pond

By brown I mean:
• Grass that has wilted or gone brown
• Plants that have gone brown and wilted and died
• Brown leaves
• Pine needles
• Shredded twigs
• Straw or sawdust (though you'll need to avoid sawdust from wood that has been treated with chemicals)
• Shredded paper – it can be good to add some shredded newspaper to your compost from time to time

Keep your compost moist, but not soaking wet, and turn it occasionally. If your composter is a drum, you just turn the handle. If it's a bin or a pile, get out the shovel and turn over the materials manually.

Over time, by some miracle of nature, you will have roughly the right ratio of nitrogen to carbon, and you'll have great compost.

What kitchen scraps are good for your compost?
Remember that when we're talking about kitchen scraps, you can't compost meat or any bones. You also can't compost most animal waste, at least not from carnivores, because it contains pathogens and stuff you don't want around your food.

On the other hand, if you have herbivores, like bunnies, you can add their waste to your compost pile. In fact, animal waste from herbivores can be a great way to get your compost really hot right away – in other words, to get that matter decomposing quickly. It's like starting a yogurt with a specific culture. To start compost, to get it really hot right away, go to a pony ride and get some horse manure and put that in. Boom! Your compost gets fired up right away. Cow manure and chicken manure work, too.

The funny thing is, there won't be any smell from this stuff, because you'll cover the animal waste right away. It'll be in the centre – at the core – of your compost pile, making everything start decomposing really quickly. And you'll have usable compost for your garden in as little as a month.


Excerpted from Living Like Ed by Ed Begley, Jr. Copyright © 2008 by Ed Begley, Jr.. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.



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How to start your own compost pile