Easy Composting Instructions: 10 Steps

Easy composting, also known as "cold pile" composting, lets you create nutrient-rich compost over time without much effort...

Hot vs. Cold Composting : What’s the Difference?

Pre-Made Compost

If you’re just now getting your compost piles ready but are itching to start your garden, there’s no need to wait!

composting instructions

Good pre-made compost can be purchased to give your plants the nutrients they need while your homemade composting operation is getting underway.

Hot and cold composting are essentially created the same way which we'll cover further down the page.

They both require the same ingredients, including "good" microorganisms, air, water, nitrogen-rich "greens" (such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings, bird feathers or weeds), carbon-rich "browns"(straw, hay or leaves) and protection from the elements.

When the compost is ready from either pile, the same amount will be needed for your garden depending on your climate. Warmer climates need up to a 3 inch layer while cooler climates need about an inch.

Cold composting, as the name implies, creates a cooler pile than what is created by hot composting. Hot piles get up to 140 to 160 degrees F (60 to 71 degrees C) on the inside, while cold piles typically reach no more than 90 degrees F (32 degrees C).

Composting Basics

Want to know more about why compost is important and why the technique for making it is so important?

See our Composting Basics page.

The only way hot piles are able to get so hot so fast is by creating the pile all at once, thus creating a heat trap for the heat-emitting microorganisms while they decompose the browns and greens. They also require daily management and measurement in order to maintain ideal temperatures.

All that hard work does carry some benefits, including the elimination of weed seeds for a less weedy garden and a better ability to kill disease-causing organisms. What hot piles can't do, however, is be an outlet for your food scraps and ongoing yard waste.

Keeping Your In-House Compost Container Hassle-Free

BioBag makes compostable bags that are biodegradable and made from GMO Free Crops. They're great for collection of organic waste such as food waste and lawn waste for composting. The bags completely break down and return nutrient rich soil to the earth.

Cold piles are called "easy composting" because they don't require you to create the pile all at once and because you can basically start them and then move on with little work required to maintain a healthy pile.

If you're feeling ambitious and want to dive straight into hot composting, head over to our Compost How to Make Hot Piles page.

Otherwise, let's get into the steps you need to follow when taking the easy composting route...

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10 Steps of Easy Composting

Pre-Made Compost

Easy composting can take a year or more to yield garden-ready compost. If you're just now starting your compost pile but want to get to growing, pick up some pre-made compost from your local nursery.

Not all compost is created equal, so be sure the brand you buy comes highly recommended from an organic gardener at the nursery or in your area.

  1. Choose a spot for your pile. Your easy composting pile should be readily accessible from your kitchen.
  2. Build or buy a compost bin. The best compost bin designs speed up the composting process and look better in your yard than a heaping pile, but a bin is not absolutely essential for cold composting.

    If you decide not to use a compost bin, be sure that your pile does NOT lean up against your house or a fence (unless of course you want your fence or house to slowly erode off into your compost pile) and that it remains protected from the elements using heavy duty black plastic.

    Click here to review recommended compost bins.
  3. Compost Activator

    compost how to makeCompost activator, also called compost starter or compost accelerator, will speed up the composting process and help to create a good garden soil pH balance within your compost.

    It’s not absolutely necessary, but it’s a nice boost for beginners, those without easy access to healthy soil or compost or for those who need compost more quickly.

    Click here to purchase compost activator.

    Prepare your compost pile spot by churning or tilling the soil to allow earthworms to aerate the pile, thereby speeding up the composting process.
  4. Start your pile out by laying down a 3 inch (7.6 cm) layer of brown ingredients.
  5. Add enough water to dampen but not soak the browns. When you're done watering, the browns should have the feel of a wrung-out sponge. Click here for recommended watering cans (yes, there are "good" and "bad" watering cans!).
  6. Add a 1/2 inch (13 mm) layer of healthy soil or pre-made compost to introduce the microorganisms to your pile. If you want to use compost activator to jump-start the process, add that in as well.
  7. Add your greens (kitchen food scraps and yard waste) as they become available.

    What NOT to Add
    to Your Easy Composting Pile

    • Ashes (other than burned plants)
    • Dairy products
    • Diseased plants
    • Dog or cat manure
    • Lawn clippings from yards treated with chemicals
    • Manure from feedlots
    • Meat products
    • Roots of garden weeds (weeds above the roots are okay)
    • Weeds that have “gone to seed” (when plants produce seeds after flowering)
  8. As your greens pile up, continue to add browns with a goal of maintaining a browns to greens ratio of between 5 and 8 to 1.
  9. Occasionally check the moisture level of your pile. If it gets drier than a wrung-out sponge, add water. If it gets over-watered, mix in some more dry browns (making sure that the ratio remains in line).
  10. Turn and fluff the pile every few months using a pitchfork or manure fork, bringing the inside material to the outside when you do.
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Easy Composting: How to Know When It's Ready

composting instructionsYou'll know that your compost is ready by the way it looks and smells.

Finished compost shouldn't have any distinguishable ingredients and should look like dark, nutrient-rich soil (see image to the right).

It should also smell like healthy soil. If there's a foul smell, it's not ready and is either too wet (add dry browns), needs air (turn the pile inside-out and fluff) or its ratio of browns or greens is out of balance.

Time to Get Started

Now that you know how to create compost the easy way, it's time to gather the necessary equipment and get started.

Click here to jump to the recommended composting equipment.

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Finished compost photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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