Building a compost pile is an easy gardening project. Compost provides nutrition for plants, it builds the soil, and feeds beneficial microbes.

Here are a few ideas how to get started with your own compost pile…


First, choose the best location for your compost pile, which should be easily accessible (so that you will be more likely to add to it and use it). You don’t want it to be a chore, so keep it comfortably nearby.

You will be needing to add water during dry spells, so consider locating it near a hose or water spigot. The composting process is one of decay and rotting, so bear that in mind with regard to smell (and its potential reach into your living space).

Decide how much containment you want. The fastest compost pile to build is a simple mound by simply throwing everything to be composted into a heap and letting it rot. Or, you can choose to enclose the pile… Use your own imagination and ingenuity with materials like boards, bricks, rocks, fencing, etc.

Decide what to put in your pile. You can compost anything that rots, except for things with grease. Foods like meat or cheese don’t decay properly and may result in rodent and non-beneficial insect problems. A compost pile heats unevenly, so turning it every few days will ensure that all plant material spends time in the center of the pile.

You want to strive for a balance of carbon (dead/brown/dry) and nitrogen (green) material. It is usually recommended that you add 60% carbon to 40% nitrogen. If all you have is green plant material (like grass), you can add newspaper as the carbon source. Layer your materials with a slight mist from a garden hose to dampen (do not wet or soak) each layer.

If you want faster compost, shredding the material speeds the process up considerably. Shredding also makes for a neater looking pile and one that is easier to turn.

Build your compost pile. Add the dry and green plant material in layers, adding a little dirt to help the microbes to start the decay process.

In addition to dry and green plants, you can add twigs or large plant stems, which helps with air flow. You might think of the compost as a living, breathing thing. The decay process is completed by microbes, beneficial insects and worms – all of which need air and water to survive.

You should “stir” the pile occasionally, and try to move the ‘stuff’ in the middle to the edges, and visa-verse. A pitch fork is useful for this. Also, water if dry. This will ensure proper and even distribution of the decomposition process.

Maintain the pile. You want to keep the center of the pile hot moist. Too much water will drown the microbes and chase away the worms; this can also cause the pile to get a “rotten” odor. If the pile gets too dry, the decay process stops. Strive for an evenly moist mixture.

Keep it hot. A hot pile rots faster, but it is not necessary. You can decide to just throw all of your vegetation onto the pile and let nature take care of it. This is a slower process and may take up to a year to decay most plants. To keep the pile hot, every few days go out and turn it.

The compost is ready when it no longer heats up and looks similar to dirt. It will have a fresh earthy scent, too.

Have any of your own ideas or suggestions? Leave a comment and let the rest of us know!


  1. Good article! I’m glad you mentioned a simple compost pile where you just pile it on, sorry, thats me. I have two piles due to the accumulation of material and the lack of open garden space. I don’t have the time to turn it over like I would like to, so I just pile it on. Everything I can get goes onto the pile. I mulch everything, fall leaves, grass clippings, garden residue, kitchen vegetable scraps, rabbit manure, & etc. Come fall/spring, or certain sections are open, I spread the compost in that area & till it under along with truck loads of horse manure.

  2. Something I found on PBS.

    If you have leaf bearing trees and time you can build a no frills composter out of chicken wire, some ties, and optionally a tarp.

    – Find a space that you don’t mind looking weird. Open to the elements is best.
    – Decide how wide you want in [feet]. Call this the diameter, D. It is.
    – Cut a bit more than 3 * D [feet] off the roll of chicken wire. Tie it together in a circle.
    – You can put a tarp in the bottom of the wire circle to keep the end result from blowing away.
    – Six feet tall works well.

    Insert whatever unit of length measurement for [feet]. In a few years you will have excellent soil. No stirring, etc required.

  3. Several decades ago, Troy built tillers were used to power compost refuse material directly into the soil. I don’t recommend this as it also ties up the very same nitrogen that your garden plants need. The compostable material was powercomposted in between rows.

    One idea that is being successfully field tested is running all compostable material through a garbage disposal, and then capturing it, and then watering it, and applying this into a composting pile. It accelerates the microbial action and dramatically speeds up decomposition.

    Even in countries without power, special solar power stations are used to power up the insinkerator (one well known and rugged brand) for seconds towards this purpose. It’s kept fairly close to the compost site.

    A lot of composting fails because it isn’t hot enough. Often there isn’t enough nitrogen in the compost pile. In fact some composters have been known to intentionally throw in a handful of chemical fertilizer to get it to start better.

    Since anything with a black color absorbs heat energy, then draping a black study plastic tarp over the compost pile has often been suggested to accelerate decomposition.

    As long as your health is good, then urine can be used in the garden, and one might add diluted urine to the compost pile to the same effect of the added chemical fertilizer…and it’s free.

    It is theoretically possible to raise rabbits and allow their droppings to then be composted along with other discarded kitchen items, and raise earthworms in that. In fact, such earthworms when degritted of their intestinal contents could serve as a very valuable food supplement. I know the squeamish amoung you might think this nuts, but I can assure you that multiple methods of raising lower tier creatures like earthworms and snails have been considered.

    A major effort is being done to look at insect harvesting, and certainly we have many folks raising crickets for fish bait, that we actually might consume ourselves post-collapse.

    Think outside the box. Whatever you can raise yourself versus trapping, fishing, or hunting, and having that in a steady supply, might be the difference in feeding your tribe or not.

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