Composting Basics: Our Compost Pile

We have a compost pile. It started when my husband pulled out a pesky lilac that was taking over the corner of our yard. In the dirt patch, he happily started gathering together fallen leaves and grass clippings, and the next year while we were putting in our first raised bed garden, we happily took from the pile to fill the space. When I planted my garden that year, the results were impressive and I was hooked.

We then moved to building a structure around out pile out of wood and patio pavers, but you can use any kind of containment device you have available. You could just reign it in with chicken wire, if that suits your needs. You do want air to be able to get at the pile, though, so keep that in mind when choosing what you want to use.

Wanna see ours?

Composting is a way you can provide your own organic material for feeding your plants, and fall is the perfect time to start your own with all the fallen leaves around for the taking. When building your compost pile, size can be a factor. Go for a structure or container that is at least 3’x3′. You can just make a loop with chicken wire off in the corner of your yard if you don’t have much space. Then for materials, you want to start with three “browns” to one “green.” Browns are dead material are usually dead and are high in carbon. Greens are items that are high in nitrogen.

The table below lists different types of compostable brown and green materials. Egg shells are not on the list, but they are a great alkalizer and source of calcium in your compost. They’re also the only animal byproduct that should be going in (unless you have herbivore manure from chickens or cows, for example, that you can add). Stir your pile with a pitchfork once a month or so to get oxygen into the mix and help it along and keep it from smelling.

Browns (High Carbon) Greens (High Nitrogen)
fallen leaves grass clippings
hay or straw fruit rinds and scraps
garden debris, dried vegetable scraps
peanut shells coffee grounds
pine needles tea leaves
shredded paper garden debris, fresh

I’m in love with our compost pile, and I’ll love it even more when it has a removable door on the front. Ahem. It’s been great having natural fertilizer at the ready when we garden in the spring.

**UPDATE: So, I realize my yard is on the larger side. It’s one of the reasons we bought our house. However, you don’t need much space for a compost pile. To demonstrate, I asked if our friends, Jeremy and Amy, would let us show you a few photos from their teeny, tiny yard. Observe what one can do with 650 square feet of space.


  1. I used to live in the city where we had our scraps picked up but now that we live in the suburbs I’m not sure how to really compost outside, haha!
    I seem to remember hearing you had to flip the pile with a pitch fork and some things about hot spots….any idea? And absolutely no meats or animal products? Cute video by the way!

  2. Stirring and Watering occassionally are both important- I didn’t do this when we first started out several years ago and some lovely bees took up home in our pile… I went to dump out a potted plant late in the summer and immediately was swarmed by about 50+ bees who proceeded to sting every open piece of flesh- Thankfully, I am not allergic to bee stings, but the subsequent pain did teach me to “give some love” to my compost 1-2 times a month to keep them from moving back in- well at least May-Oct (I am in MN afterall, the rest of the year is pretty chilly for bees!)

    • Thanks, Jenny! We have never had an issue with watering ours. We just let the rain take care of it most of the time and it is in a shaded area , and you want your compost to feel moist, but never wet. However, if you live in a really dry area or if your compost pile gets a lot of sun, you will need to watch it and water to keep it moist.

  3. I’ve been straight composting right onto our garden bed ever since we dug it out about 5 years ago. All my kitchen waste goes right on top, it gets sprinkled with grass clippings for weed mulching and then in the Fall, I cover it with leaves to a depth of about 4 inches and place plastic fencing over the top, weighed down with rebar, to hold the leaves on it all winter. I till it over every other year, and each Spring once it thaws out, I just dig through the decaying leaves to plant. The soil is amazing; rich and black and full of worms. Our winter composting consists of a large trash bin that holds all our vegetable scraps until Spring. If only we had space for a great big compost pile!

  4. Our yard is too small. I wanted a compost so much. I love your video. It is excellent. Composing is so important. There are just two of us in this house and the yard – oh, is just too small. Grrr.

  5. I wish we had more space for this…. love the idea!

  6. I’m the “teeny tiny yard friends” and it is absolutely true- a small yard is no excuse for a lack of compost bin! In fact, one could argue that there is less distance from the back door the compost bin with a smaller yard!

    Had I known how easy it is to build one, (we used metal stakes, zip ties and plastic snow fencing) we would have built one as soon as we moved into our house. We cheated and bought a few bags of compost to get it started and have never had an issue with bad smell.

  7. Love the visual and our favorite tot’s cameo, nice video and pile O6! The possibilities with 3′ of space…

  8. Love those sweet voices! Too cute!

    I’m jealous of your compost pile, lol… mine’s not quite that lovely, but it is getting there!



  1. […] am pleased with our compost pile, and inspired by Shaina’s Composting Basics post and video, I thought I would show you ours. (Please keep in mind, Shaina’s compost is much prettier […]

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