New to Composting

Springboro, OH

Hey Guys! I started a compost pile last year, but I didn't have much success. It never heated up. I gave up then, but I'm ready to try my hand at it one more time. I have clay soil and an area in my yard under some trees that is bare and cracks in the heat and I want to amend this area with compost in the hopes of having a lush shade garden.

I have a fairly large pile of shredded up leaves and hay that have sat in my hubby's fenced-in veggie garden over the winter. I'm planning to water the ground first then make a base on the ground of some fallen limbs from the trees for aeration. Next, I plan to layer the leaves/hay with some grass clippings next week after hubby mows the lawn. Now, I really want to get this cooking fairly quickly. I do save my coffee grounds and egg shells and all fruit peels, etc etc. Is this considered Carbon or Nitrogen and should I just throw it in when I have it or make up a separate layer of this kind of stuff? Also how thick should I make the layers?

Am I on the right track? Any other suggestions?


Hercules, CA(Zone 10a)

I am somewhat of a lazy composter, but I eventually always get results. I tend to layer things as I produce them, that is I'll layer some grass clippings, then layer some rose prunings, trying to get different layers with dry carbon and moist/green carbon. Every couple of layers I throw over a few shovelfuls of garden soil, to help innoculate the culture. I consider kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and tea leaves as moist carbon. Every few years I also add some red wriggler worms - they just become part of the mix and help chew up the portions of the compost pile that don't heat up very well. I turn the compost as soon as it fills up a 3 ft x 3 ft bin. This usually takes me a couple of months. I always have three bins going. About the time it is time to turn things into the next bin, the compost in the third bin is ready to put back into the garden.

Another secret, is to keep the compost reasonably moist. The bacteria and fungi need water to grow well. I sprinkle water on the compost every other day or so in the summer, when I'm watering my vegetable garden. You want the compost to be wet like a damp sponge, not soaking wet. If the compost is too wet it will tend to get a pond-scum odor, which means the water is preventing oxygen from getting into the compost.

I hope these handy hints are helpful to you. Once you get a system going, you will find that compost just happens almost magically.

Cary, NC(Zone 7a)


composting is pretty simple but needs a good mix of materials. Fruit and veggie scraps are ok if they are chopped to smaller pieces. The heat needed to "cook" it all is in the nitrogen which makes it heat up. If you add the fresh grass clippings to every fourth or fifth layer, not to think or they will have that rotting grass odor, then the whole effort will work. The grass will heat the pile, to add a few extra microorganisms you can add some of the soil from your garden as well, that should keep it going strong. You can also cover the pile with black plastic and it will cook sufficiently in 4-6 weeks.

Good luck

Waxhaw (Charlotte), NC(Zone 7b)

To heat up the pile you need a high mix of nitrogen vs carbon.

To leaves/hay you need to add coffee grounds, fruit peels, etc (all high nitrogen).
You can also add a few handfulls of lawn fertilizer per layer to really speed up the process.
Grass clippings are excellent because they really boost the heating process (similar to lawn fertilizer) but you need a lot of clippings to mix the leaves and the clippings should not be layered, but distrubuted and mixed well with the leaves.

Also make sure the pile is damp, not dry and not soaking wet. Damp.

Good luck

SE GA, GA(Zone 8a)

Good advice from all of the above.

One exception however that I want to point out from personal experience.

Avoid the rose prunings. The thorns (in my case anyway) did not compost very well or very quickly and when I handled and sifted the compost you can guess what happened. Not fun.

Do you plan to use any sort of bin or ring? I use a simple piece of wire fencing made into a circle. I add all of my stuff in there in equal layers watering here and there as I go. You want it to be as damp as a wrung out sponge. The ring is not absolutely necessary but keeps things neat and makes the pile work better.

Good Luck! I know you'll do fine.


Springboro, OH

Hey all! Just checking in. Started the compost pile on Saturday. Today the pile is warm, not steamin but warm nonetheless which is more than I got last year! Right now I just have some leftover leaves from the fall and some grass clippings. I'm also working on a bucket with coffee grounds and cut up bannana peels that I will be adding. Thanks for all your advice!

Aubrey, I don't have a bin, but DH has a fenced in veggie patch where he is giving up a small area for my compost pile so it will be out of view behind the fence. I started it in a trash can with holes drilled in it last year. I didn't have much luck with that.

Coeur D Alene, ID(Zone 5a)

I had the same problem, so for a few days, I had the coffee shop nearby save their grounds that were used. I had about 3 coolers full, and mixed it in to my pile. It started steaming in a day. A quick, cheap jumpstart!

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

I'm way lazier than Clover. My back won't allow me to turn compost piles, so mine just have to turn into compost with being turned. I will post a photo of my compost area. I do try to put the material in in layers. I am careful not to put any thing in that would entice animals to the area. In the summer a pile will make compost in 3 or 4 months, in the winter takes 6 months or longer. But i use every morsel of finished compost. DonnaS

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Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

and here is my tumbler drum, which will make compost in a month or so, if the material is soft and in small pieces and the drum is turned 4 or 5 times a day. Well of course that just doesn't happen all the time. DonnaS

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Forestville, CA(Zone 9a)

All the literature you read about composting instructs you to make your pile in layers - a layer of green materials then a layer of brown materials. This is to insure that you get an equal amount of brown and green material. For instance you put in 4 inches of dry leaves (Browns) then you need to add 4 inches of (Greens) Grass clippings, farm animal manures, kitchen scraps including coffee grounds, green weeds, grass clippings, or any other green plant material. Equal amounts of green and browns will give you the approx balance of Carbon/ Nitrogen required. As you make the layers you should water the pile as you go, so that it is as wet as a wrung out sponge. After you have about a foot of your pile built you should turn and mix the green and browm materials together. This will give you a good mix of carbon & Nitrogen - the microbes require both carbon and nitrogen to sustain themselves. If you want to make compost fast you need to (1) build the pile to at least 1 cubic yatd (3" square X 3' tall) all at once. (2) reduce particle size to 1/2 to 1" ( Chop or run over with a lawn mower) (3) Have a balance of greens and browns mixed, with moisture of a wrung out sponge ( a handfull squeezed should not produce any water dripping out) If you build a pile in this manner you should acheive a core temp of 140 to 160 degrees within 3 days. Reasons that piles do not heat up are: (1) Not enough nitrogen (Greens) (2) not wet enough (3) Pile not large enough. If you build your pile as you go - over a period of time- you will not get really hot temps but should get some heat - 100 - 120 degrees. So, in summary, you have a choice. Get compost in a month or so or in a year or so depending on how close you follow the 3 fundamentals outlined above.

Greens are: Farm manures, Green grass clippings, green weeds, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, Blood meal, alfalfa hay if green, any high nitrogen fertilizer.

Browns are: Dead or dying plant material, wood shavings, sawdust, tree leaves, newspaper,

George - Master Gardener - Compost Project Leader

Josephine, Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

We compost the easy way, we do not turn the pile and add the materials a we accumulate them. It takes 1 year for it to finish. This is what the pile looks like after 1 year, the bin is
5 feet square by 4 feet high.

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Josephine, Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

Here is my husband sifting the compost, we have two sifters so we can do it faster.

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Josephine, Arlington, TX(Zone 8a)

And here I am proudly showing the finished product. We got 4 big buckets full of beautiful compost, enough to feed all our plants.

Thumbnail by frostweed

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