Landscape Ideas: How to Start a Compost Pile

How to Start a Compost Pile

Landscape Ideas Dallas: How to start a compost pile by Dallas Landscape ContractorMaria Bargellini

Materials list

  • Compost Bin – 3’Long x3’Wide x 3’Tall (more info…)
  • Brown material l- Dead Leaves, ground up twigs, dead & decaying plants (Carbon)
  • Green material – Freshly picked plant material grass clippings (Nitrogen)
  • Water
  • Meat or compost thermometer


For a hot compost pile you should have all the materials on hand and select a location in the shade. Your hot compost pile ingredients should be in the same state of decomposition. Placing large items, like branches in your pile will slow down the process. Compost should not have any recognizable material in it when it is harvested. It should look and smell like compost.

Start the bottom of your pile with twigs and small branches so that air can flow through. Line the first 12 inches or so with this type of material. Compost needs both moisture and air to support the biology that will begin to once your pile is created.

Mix your brown and green material on top of those branches in a layer of 1-2 feet high and mix them together while adding water. This material will become heavy with water. Make sure the layers are light enough to comfortably manipulate with a garden hoe or your hands. You should take care to not over water the layers. Pick up a handful and squeeze it. You should produce a few drops of water and not a stream. If you have too much water add more brown/green material to soak it up.

For faster results you can shred your material into smaller particles and/or add an accelerator to your pile. You may also add amendments such as, Cottonseed and, Alphapha meal in your layers as you build your pile.

Repeat the process for each of your layers until you have reached a minimum of 3 feet in height. Your pile will start to heat up overnight and will continue to do so as long as it is turned every 3-7 days and kept moist. Plunge your thermometer into you’re the center of your pile to check for temperature. You want your pile to be in the 130-150 range. This range will be needed to kill weed seeds that may be in your hot compost pile. Be careful to not let your compost pile over heat as it will kill the living organisms in your pile.

You will know when your pile is ready for harvesting when it is dark brown in color and has a sweet earthy smell. Do not put the compost on your lawn or garden when it is steaming. Let it cool off and serve it up to your plants.

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