Newly Registered
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon May 05, 2008 3:11 pm
Location: IL

Need Help Starting a Compost Pile

Okay, I'm needing some advice here...this is my first year gardening and I'd like to make a compost pile but I have a couple of questions. We have a very large garden (20' x 60' right now, could get bigger) and it doesn't seem to me that a typical 3'x3'x3' compost bin would suffice. Am I wrong? So then I thought, well, we could build like three or four together...would there be a problem with having them all next to each other? I am planning on using some old wood to build a crate-like style. My other question is, do I have to create it all at once? I read somewhere that you can't add a little at a time; that you have to have all the materials and then layer them together to make a good compost pile. So if that is true, what do I do with all of the kitchen scraps I want to save until then? I feel slightly overwhelmed ...please help! Thanks in advance. :)

Full Member
Posts: 18
Joined: Tue Apr 29, 2008 1:50 pm
Location: Windsor, Ontario - Zone 6a

First, welcome... there's a lot of info in these pages, in fact you could get lost for hours looking poking around...

You can make it as big as you want, and put the three piles where ever you want (just remember that it is a rotting pile of stuff so upwind from your bedroom window might not work).

If you want to do something like add a 0.5 - 1" layer of compost over your entire garden then the 3x3 might be a little small. This will tell you how much amendment you need for a given area and depth:

There are two classes of compost ingredients

greens: fruit & vegetable peelings, grass clippings, etc

browns: leaves, sawdust, straw, black and white shredded newspaper

Basically you add "stuff" to the pile as you come across it (so after dinner the veg waste goes in the pile, or after lawn cutting or leaf raking).

Just be aware that you need to keep your ratio of "greens" and "browns" pretty even, and you MUST! turn the pile (with a shovel or pitch fork or what not) every couple days or you will end up with a stinking pile that's not breaking down as the little microbes need oxygen.

some more info

Super Green Thumb
Posts: 4659
Joined: Thu Oct 21, 2004 5:58 pm
Location: Victoria, BC

A good compost pile should not smell bad, it should have an earthy smell to it which, I find quite pleasent.

This can be achieved by having more browns (leaves, newspaper, wood chips, etc) than greens (manure, plant wastes, veg scraps, cofee grounds, grass clipping, etc.) and if you are hot composting (50:50 mix) by turning the pile everyday.

Hot composting is really quick and can get very hot. So, don't do it up against a building because fires have been started. :shock: Anyway, it only takes about a month.

If you have a source of corn husks, they work really well in hot composting. Another good brown is cocoa beans husks.

Try to vary your greens and browns to have the highest nutrient capacity in your pile.

And have some leaf mold piles on hand for use in your compost piles and as a mulch in your gardens.

Green Thumb
Posts: 399
Joined: Thu Apr 03, 2008 10:48 am
Location: VA

Making compost is not rocket science and you can do it. Sometimes it's difficult to get just the right balance to get the heat, but a compost thermometer (a meat thermometer will work, I'm cheap, LOL) (but it's for compost only, grin). Part of that is learning by experience.
3 bins would be great! It's really much easier to move it as it decomposes that way. DH made our out of recycled heavy pallets. This is a picture of my compost in the making, the neighbors think I'm totally nutso now since it looks like I'm growing trash bags.......LOL

You can see 2 of the pallets in the background. Not all the grass and leaves in those bags will go in the bins, we have enough there to do sheet composting on the new beds and till it in. The bags have either their tops open or I do have one's I've added Bokashi juice too to help speed up the breakdown. I'm experimenting with that at this point. I'll record results as this progresses.

Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7500
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 7:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

I don't have a 20' x 60' garden plot, so I don't need compost in the quantity or at the speed you do.

But I *have* made compost in a Biostack bin (yep, 3' x 3' x 3') for approx. 20 years.

I have never accumulated materials for it, even at the beginning. I have always thrown in whatever develops.

I've turned it on an average of quarterly, but as frequently as two/three weeks apart and as far apart as two YEARS. Nothing bad happened; the compost keeps right on working.

Maybe you can make one big pile with whatever you've accumulated, and start another "as it develops" smaller pile?

Cynthia H.
El Cerrito, CA
Last edited by cynthia_h on Sat Jun 07, 2008 1:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Senior Member
Posts: 103
Joined: Sat Jun 02, 2007 5:13 pm

Thanks everyone for all the great tips and tricks. I am also new to organic gardening. In fact I just decided this weekend to stop using all these harmful chemicals I've been using. About time no, I've been gardening for 20 years.

Anyway, I have large flower gardens. Over the past three years I have been collecting grass clippings leaves etc and made a rather large pile in my back yard. For the most part I haven't been "working it" Just adding to it.

I have a couple concerns and questions.:
I understand the introducing greens or browns that have been treated with herbicides or pesticides is bad for compost. Both inhibit the growth of desirable nematodes etc. I've been using 2-4-d and merit in my lawn, and a boatload of pesticides to control jap beetles etc. in my flower gardens. My question is are my compost piles no good? Can they be saved?

I flipped them today with my front end loader. They were not "hot inside. Is this because I have not been flipping or tuning them regularly? There is quite a bit of un decomposed material within but most, about 70% has a nice, dark brown, moist soil texture to it. what should I do?

Thanks in advance


Super Green Thumb
Posts: 7500
Joined: Tue May 06, 2008 7:02 pm
Location: El Cerrito, CA

I'm uncertain as to the degradation rates of the chemicals you mention. Sorry.

But the un-decomposed materials may have been looking for more water.

Compost piles need to be monitored on a regular basis (and this varies from pile to pile, depending on its green/brown make-up). Before this year, my compost was always heavy on greens, so "occasional" watering was fine.

This year, I connected with a couple of rabbit rescue organizations and received boatloads of rabbit manure, hay, and litter. I didn't register how "brown/dry" this stuff was until MY WORMS DIED. I am now a repeat killer of worms. :x So I imported more worms from my girlfriend and am watering my pile every day to every other day. Quite a difference! And my worms are happily taking over the pile.

So it could be lack of water and/or low frequency of turning that caused the materials not to decompose. In time, they will, never fear.

If you're using a front-end loader to turn the compost, you've got quite a pile going! Good for you! :)

Cynthia H.
USDA Zone 9, Sunset Zone 17

Senior Member
Posts: 103
Joined: Sat Jun 02, 2007 5:13 pm

Yes, I have two piles going. One with more browns than the other. But I'd say I have about 4-5 c ubic yards there. Plenty for my gardens. :D

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