How to Create and Use a Compost Heap

If you think a compost heap is just a pile of garbage and mowed grass that your neighbor is too lazy to bag up and dispose of like a civilized member of society, then this article is for you. A compost heap is actually a combined collection of organic materials that over time breaks down into a soil product that’s rich in nutrients and can be used to the benefit of your garden and lawn. If created and maintained properly, a compost heap won’t smell or attract rats, flies, and other critters. Composts can be created anywhere- North Dakota, Kansas, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania– or any other state. If you have a yard, a relatively strong back, and don’t mind getting your nails dirty, read on and discover how to create your own compost heap!

  1. Gather materials to compost:

    Your compost heap should be a fifty-fifty mix of browns, which include dead leaves, twigs, and branches, and greens, which include grass clippings, vegetable stems, fruit rinds, and even coffee grounds. If you’re new to composting, we suggest sticking to browns and grass clippings for your first compost heap. Water is an essential part of the mix as well, and below we explain why and how to keep your compost heap moist.

  2. Know what NOT to add to a compost pile:

    There are materials you shouldn’t add to a compost heap as they contain substances that are harmful to plants, create odor problems, attract rodents and flies, or contain parasites or bacteria that’s harmful to humans. Charcoal ash, dairy products, fats, grease, meat or fish scraps and bones, pet wastes, and any yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides should not go into your compost heap.

  3. Turn your compost pile:

    So you’ve created a big pile of grass and finely chopped branches and twigs. Now what can you do to speed along the composting process? Once every week or two weeks, use a pitchfork or shovel to churn and aerate your compost heap. Doing so distributes air and moisture within the heap, which helps turn your pile of grass and twigs into soil.

  4. Keep it moist:

    Moisture promotes the microbial activity necessary to break down your heap into soil. You want your compost heap to have a moisture content of 40-60% in order to sustain this process. If your compost heap begins to smell bad, it’s probably too moist.

  5. Consider a compost bin:

    Enclosed bins are helpful if your outdoor space is limited and you don’t have an available area where a big pile of decomposing grass and branches won’t be an eyesore. The downside is that materials break down a little slower when contained in a bin. Some people use what are called worm bins to create compost. Redworms in the worm bins love food scraps, and are happy to break down the stems and rinds you add to your compost before they start to stink.

  6. Amend soil with compost:

    After a couple months (or less) of turning and moisturizing, you will end up with a nice heap of nutrient rich soil to use in your garden or on your lawn. In a new garden bed, add three to six inches of compost to the surface and then mix it in really good with the existing soil. For a garden bed you’ve had for awhile, just add one or two inches and again, mix it up with the soil. Apply one to three inches of compost over your lawn then rake and water it in. The compost will help to keep your lawn healthy and green.

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