Our last workshop covered the basics of composting and what is necessary  for an efficient, active composting system.

Before our workshop last Thursday, we built a few examples of composting systems that you can have at home, such as straw compost bins, generic compost piles, and moveable bins.

IMG_20130530_191538      IMG_20130530_191528

The placement of the pile should be taken into consideration, preferably in a level area that will receive at least some shade and has good drainage. In certain cases, such as in backyards or in more urban environments, the “unsightliness” of a traditional compost pile must be taken into consideration, and so some ways to surround and hide the pile should be sought out. In addition, whether in a pile or bin, the size should be between 3’x3’x3′ and 5’x5’x5′, for any larger is unmanageable  and would not aerate properly and any smaller may not heat up high enough for breakdown.

Some recommended tools:

  • Pitch fork for turning pile
  • Gardening hose or watering can
  • Optional: pruners, machete or shredder to cut up larger pieces of organic waste; compost thermometer, covered container for your kitchen that you can carry out

When starting your pile, build on bare ground, not on asphalt or concrete as this would inhibit microbial interaction with the compost. As the pile developed, firm and lightly water each layer as it is added but don’t compact it.

Compost Ingredients: 2 parts green to 1 part brown


  • Aquarium water, algae, and freshwater plants add moisture and nitrogen
  • Dead houseplants
  • Fresh grass clippings should be mixed with plenty of drier, brown material
  • Green garden debris
  • Vegetative kitchen scraps (carrot peelings and the like) should be buried in the pile so they don’t attract animals
  • Fruit scraps
  • Eggshells
  • Don’t add weeds!


  • Brown garden debris
  • Hedge prunings and twigs help keep a pile fluffy but should be chipped first so they decompose faster
  • Leaves will add nitrogen and are abundant in nutrients. As they decompose, they will also help to retain moisture
  • Straw bulks up a pile, but it should not be confused with hay, which often contains weed and grass seeds and shouldn’t be added to compost

compostpilegraphicGraphic courtesy of University of Missouri Extension Service

General Compost Care:    

  • Temperature should be between 110º-160º F (should reach this within two weeks of building)
  • Turn the pile as you add to it in order to aerate for porper decomposition
  • Turn pile on average every 4-5 weeks
  • Add water if the organic material doesn’t feel damp
  • Finished compost that is well decomposed will be dark and nearly black in color, crumbly, and smell sweet



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