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how to compost manual

Making Compost


Now we get into the actual mechanics of constructing and managing the compost pile.  First, a few words about the location of the pile.  Your compost pile should be placed directly on the ground to facilitate the entrance of worms and other beneficial organisms from the soil (but it will work just as well if you want to set it on any available concrete or such).  Place your compost pile near the growing beds to save your legs as you maneuver wheelbarrows or buckets of compost around.  If you keep livestock (chickens, rabbits, etc....an excellent way to handle kitchen wastes), locate the compost pile near the animal housing so you can empty the manure directly into the bins.  Choose a site on level ground (if possible), that does not use any precious sunlight better used for growing plants.  A shady spot will keep the bins from drying out so rapidly in the hot summer months.  Locate near a water source, as water will be needed when building the pile, and also from time to time when turning the pile.  Allow space for storage of materials that will go into the pile, if you can spare it.  Well managed compost piles will have very little obnoxious odor ... however, when the pile is first assembled, and possibly during the first few turnings, some odors may be noticed (these will never be as objectionable as those from anaerobic processes).


In general, the smaller the pieces of organic matter that compose the pile, the faster the decomposition process will be (the microorganisms have more surface area to work on).  One way to inexpensively shred your material is to run your lawnmower over it.  Work the material in small sections, directing the mower discharge to a convenient area.  Leaves, especially, should get at least some shredding treatment, as they tend to mat into clumps in the pile.  But don't carry this shredding business too far; material should not be much smaller than 1" (and pulping the material slows the process considerably, leading to anaerobic conditions).  As long as there is some finer material along with the coarser material, you won't need to shred too much.

Building in Layers

Instructions on building a compost pile often advise putting the materials down in layers.  This is a good idea for several reasons;
1) it makes keeping track of the materials and the approximate C / N ratio easier,
2) it is also easier to ensure that you put down a mix of coarse and finer textured materials, so as not to pack the pile, leading to anaerobic conditions.
There is nothing sacred about the sequence, proportions, or contents of each layer, as they will all be thoroughly mixed in the turning process.  However, the first layer should be composed of some fairly absorbent materials to catch any excess liquid (crushed leaves and/or sawdust is good for this).  Make this first layer 5"–10" deep.

Apply water to the compost pile if the majority of the material used is dry.  Try to achieve a moisture content of 50%, about the consistency of a squeezed sponge.  It is difficult to judge this correctly without experience, (even with experience, I consistently under water for fear of getting the pile too wet) but no matter ... part of the reason for turning the pile is to judge the moisture content, and make adjustments as necessary.

After the dry materials, add a layer of green materials; wet and high in nitrogen (green grass clippings, kitchen wastes, etc.).  Add lots of manure if you have it (say a 2" layer).  Sprinkle on any supplemental additives you desire, or that your soil testing indicated a need for (blood meal, bone meal, minerals, etc).  Continue in this manner, alternating layers of vegetation and nitrogenous substances, with additives and water as needed, until the bin is nearly full.  The last layer should be composed of some highly carbonaceous material to help inhibit any odors, bringing the bin up to full, or slightly higher.  You can make a smaller amount of compost, but if the volume of the material is any less than about 3/4's cu.yd., there will not be enough mass to heat up properly.

To protect the pile from drying out too quickly; or, on the other hand, from drenching rains, cover the top with anything at hand (tarp, old plastic sheet, piece of carpet, whatever).  Leave the sides open, to permit air circulation. Once the compost has been made, you can add more material for the first two turnings, or so; in order to make adjustments (discussed in Managing the compost pile).  However, after the first week, store any additional materials for use in the next pile.  This will keep odors to a minimum in the first pile, and help produce a more uniform product when completed.

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