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How to start a compost pile

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Compost piles are a great way to reduce waste and to improve the soil.

Starting a compost pile is easy to do and doesn't require any special equipment, though some gardeners like compost bins to keep their piles neat, to make turning easier, and to protect it from heavy rains.

You'll need the following to start your own compost pile:

  • An area that is approximately three feet long by three feet wide
  • Carbon-rich materials such as dead leaves, straw, dead flowers, or shredded newspaper. These items are also known as brown materials.
  • Nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste (like vegetable peelings and fruit rinds), or barnyard animal manure. Nitrogen-rich materials are also known as green materials.
  • One or two shovelfuls of garden soil.


  1. Spread a layer of brown materials where you are starting your compost pile. The layer should be several inches thick.
  2. Top with a layer several inches thick of green materials.
  3. Top this with a thin layer of soil.
  4. Add another layer of brown materials.
  5. Moisten all the layers with water.
  6. Continue layering until the pile is about three feet high. You don't have to do this all at once; just keep adding to the pile as you have materials to add. A good ration is three parts brown material to one part green.

Maintaining the compost pile: Turn the pile with a shovel or garden fork every couple of weeks to move the materials in the center to the outside and vice versa. You may see steam rise when you first turn the pile.

You should keep the pile moist, but not soggy.

When the center of the pile turns to black, crumbly, sweet-smelling soil, you can use it in your garden. Use any material that hasn't fully decomposed to start your next pile.

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