How to Start a Compost Pile

What is composting?
Composting is nature’s way of turning organic matter into rich, nutrient dense soil. Starting a compost pile is a way of speeding up that process by providing conditions that are just right for allowing those materials to decompose. Composting is beneficial for gardeners, as they will be left with high quality soil to use in their garden. Even if you don’t have a garden, keep in mind that composting your kitchen and yard trimmings helps divert that waste from the landfill; Yard and food waste currently make up 30% of the waste stream!

Starting a Backyard Compost Pile

  • 1. Purchase a large bin, at least 30 gallons in size. Types of composting bins range from a basic bucket to “tumblers” that make it easy and hassle free for you to turn the contents and allow them to mix properly.
  • 2. Place the bin in a shaded area of your yard away from any plants or trees, as they could steal the nutrients from your compost pile over time.
  • 3. Add organic material to the bin. Lawn clippings, yard waste and food scraps from your indoor compost bucket will get your compost pile started. Shredding larger items such as fallen branches will help it decompose more efficiently.
  • 4. Expose your compost pile to rain water regularly. Your pile should stay about as moist as a wrung out sponge.
  • 5. If you have a non-tumbling bin, mix the compost pile with a pitchfork each time you add material to expose it to air. The compost needs to be exposed to oxygen in order to decompose. If you have a tumbling bin, give it a few turns every week or so.

Collecting Kitchen Scraps

Composting kitchen waste makes is a simple way to get started with composting, and virtually anyone can do it. Some people are turned off by this idea, thinking that it involves keeping a smelly bucket of rotting food in your kitchen. Fortunately, it does not have to be a smelly endeavor.

First, find a large bucket that seals. An old ice cream bucket will work, as will a large Tupperware container that you’re not too attached to. Add food waste such as coffee grounds, apple cores, banana peels and carrot ends to your scrap bucket. Avoid adding scraps that contain fatty sauces, meat, bones or dairy. Seal the bucket as soon as you deposit new items. Empty the compost bucket as often as you can to cut back on odor. To cut back on odors even more, consider keeping the bucket in your freezer. This will eliminate any odors, and the material will break down as it melts and decomposes in the larger compost bin.

Urban Composting Programs
The NYC Compost Project offers classes and workshops on composting and has various sites in the city. They even provide classes on composting with an indoor worm bin, which is an option for those who don’t have access to outdoor space for a compost pile. The Department of Sanitation in New York City also runs collection programs for leaves, Christmas trees, wood debris and yard waste.