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composting is easy…no really, it is!

Thanks to Christine Smith and the Placer County Master Gardener’s Summer 2005 issue of The Curious Gardener, we have great instructions on how to build and understand a compost pile!

There are four basic things needed for this kind of compost pile: browns, greens, air, and water. This means your pile should be located in a open area, near a water source, and should have equal parts green and brown.

“Brown” is something dry and high in carbon. There are lots of examples of brown; you can include dead leaves, cut brush, wood shavings, and straw. From inside the house you can use newspaper, paper egg cartons, junk mail (but only the non-slick or shiny paper), paper towels, as well as the paper towel tubes, and other forms of corrugated cardboard.

The “greens” will come from things that are moist and high in nitrogen. Grass clippings, or feces from animals that only eat plants, and from the kitchen you should save tea bags, citrus rinds, and fruit or vegetable trimmings.

Proper air and water balance within a pile is essential for rapid decomposition to occur. Turning, lifting and stirring are the most efficient ways to aerate a compost pile. The pile should be moist to the touch, but yield no liquid when squeezed, similar to a wrung-out sponge. Also the smaller the pieces, the faser the composting process, so pieces should be between 1/2″ to 1 and 1/2″ in size. To achieve this size, try shredding the compost ingredients before adding them to the pile or using a power lawn mower with a bag attachment to reduce the particle size and increase particle surface area. Altogether though, the pile should be about 3′x3′x3′ or one cubic yard.

Assembling the pile:

  1. Start with 4-6″ of brown
  2. Add 4-6″ of green
  3. Mix the layers using a spading fork or shovel
  4. Check pile for moisture- grab a clump of material and squeeze it, if it sticks together you’re good to go, if not sprinkle a little water on the pile and re-stir

Repeat steps 1-4 until the pile is 3′x3′x3′, always checking moisture content after each layer is added. After about 2 days the pile temperature will be between 110-140F , which could cause steam to come off the pile but this means that composting is happening! On day 3, turn the pile and check the moisture, and this is to be done every 3 days from this point forward. Temperature will continue to rise, which kills weed seeds, insect eggs and diseased organisms. Using a compost thermometer check the temperature and if it rises above 140F, cool it off by turning the pile. 

After 2 weeks the pile temperature will drop as composting slows and at this point the compost should be dark brown and crumbly with an earthy scent.

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4 Responses to “composting is easy…no really, it is!”

  1. One of the best posts on proper composting I have ever found. Thank you.

  2. Deb69 says:

    That’s easy? It reads like a recipe

  3. Thanks so much! We’re glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Wow! That is so nice to hear! Thank you very much.