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How to Construct a Compost Pile

As the earth’s population continues to rise, waste management has become a pressing concern. The United States ranks number one in trash production, at 1,609 pounds of trash per person per year. This means that 5 percent of the world’s population is generating 40 percent of its waste. And every year, the average American throws out 1,200 pounds of organic material that could have been composted instead of put into a landfill.

Because landfills are being stretched to capacity, composting, which was once only popular among the gardening community, is gaining public interest. Compost, or decayed plant material, is a cost-effective, simple-to-make, nutrient-rich fertilizer for household and garden plants.

Benefits of Composting

  • Removes organic material from the waste cycle, reducing methane emissions from landfills
  • Enriches garden soils, adding moisture to sandy soils and absorbing moisture in clay-rich areas
  • Stimulates healthy root development in plants, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Inexpensive to make
  • Lowers your carbon footprint

Materials to Compost

  • Carbon-rich “brown” materials like dried leaves, straw, dead flowers and shredded newspaper
  • Nitrogen-rich “green” materials like grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste or barnyard animal manure
  • Garden soil

Materials to Avoid Composting

  • Meat, oil, fish, dairy products and bones, which can attract animals
  • Weeds that have gone to seed or which spread by root growth
  • Diseased or insect-infested plants
  • Grass or weeds that have been treated with chemical pesticides
  • Dog, cat, pig or human waste
  • Coal or charcoal ash

Building a Compost Pile

  1. Start by spreading a several-inch thick layer of carbon-rich “brown” material where you want to build your compost pile.
  2. Spread a several-inch thick layer of nitrogen-rich “green” material on top of the first layer.
  3. Add a thin layer of soil.
  4. Add another layer of “brown” material.
  5. Repeat steps one through four until your compost pile reaches desired height.
  6. Add water until the layers are as moist as a wrung-out sponge.

Maintaining a Compost Pile

  • Use a shovel or a garden fork to turn the pile as often or as little as you would like, making sure to move the material from the center of the pile to the outside and vice versa.
  • The more frequently you turn the pile, the sooner you will have compost. Aeration is important to the composting process.
  • Keep the pile moist, but not soggy, and in a shaded area.
  • Watch for steam as you turn the pile. This is a sign that the pile is heating up as a result of decomposition.
Keywords: fertilizer, gardening, compost

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