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You’ve decided to start a compost pile.   Before you decide where to put the pile it is important to consider your goals for the material after it has decomposed.  You need to be realistic about the material you will get based on what you do with the pile.  Don’t let that deter you.  There are plenty of benefits from a compost pile, even if you decide to give it little maintenance.

  • Reduced garbage, especially if you include items like napkins and other paper products.
  • Reduced yard waste.  If you live in an area like me, no more putting out those annoying paper bags with or without stickers for Waste Management to pick up and turn into compost.
  • A nutrient rich mulch to put in nutrient deficient places of your yard.  Compost is fantastic for spots in which you want to start grass from seed.

But there are some negatives to a compost pile, especially if you decide you want to dump in the organic waste and let it sit.

  • Increased bugs – This might be a positive if you want to attract some birds, although you may attract scavenger like birds like Ravens depending on what you put in it.
  • Smell – If you are not watching what you put in the compost pile, the organic material can rot.  It isn’t pleasant.
  • Attracts rodents – This can be a big problem if your material is mostly food waste and you let the pile sit.

To begin, where will your pile be?  Your spouse will have a big say in this.  Make sure he or she is on board as a compost pile isn’t worth fighting over.  Mine is located in the Northwest corner of our backyard.  Because of how our house is positioned on the lot and a slight valley in our backyard, the wind rarely blows directly from the pile to our house.  More importantly, it is positioned down a bit and behind our children’s play set mostly out of site from our back picture view window.

Will you just have a pile or will you put the material in something?  After 3 different renditions of mine, I finally built a fairly large frame, which I dug down a way into the ground, which allows me enough room to turn and sift my pile and ensures there is decent drainage for the pile.

Potatoes grow in half of my compost bin in the summer.  This large frame allows me plenty of space to turn my material and sift and organize when I want.

Notice I don’t have a cover on my pile.  April through November I attempt to turn the material in my pile twice a week.  In the winter I make sure and turn it during warm up thaws which tend to be 1-2 times a month.  Because I turn my material often, rodents do not make my pile home.  Even so, after an unusual gloomy Spring there was a mouse nest in my pile this year.  Good friends who recently started a pile had a Possum bed in their pile.  If you don’t plan to turn the material put some sort of lid on it.  There are also all kinds of barrel systems that you can use and even some simple do it yourself plans which are affordable options.

You might want a lid on the compost bin either way.  But keeping rodents out of the pile is not the only reason to turn the material.  If you hope to have usable and productive compost material for a garden, you will wait a year or more if you simply pile up your scraps in a pile and let it sit.  I’m not an expert in the biological process, but turning the material allows bacteria and other organisms to feed off of new material in the middle of the pile.  It also airs out any smell if you have a pile with some rotting.

When composting materials and conditions are ripe for active composting the inside of the pile will release steam when you turn the material.  Different types of bacteria and organisms thrive at different temperatures and feed differently on the material.

Turning the material resets the process and keeps the temperature higher which keeps the organisms that consume more of the material around.  I put sifted compost material in my garden and yard 3 times a year, but I’m only able to do this because I turn the material often.

If you will turn the material often, what will you use?  A potato fork or a pitch fork works better than a shovel.  I don’t currently own this ensilage fork True Temper 30 in. 10-Tine Ensilage Fork with D-Handle but the next time I upgrade from my 4 pronged potato fork I will purchase something similar with 10 prongs.  Purchase a heavy duty fork if you plan on turning the material often.  The last thing you want for yourself is to resent having to turn the material because you have a poor tool to use to do so.

Before you start a compost pile at least consider:

Grab your fitness tracker and set up the new compost pile.  It can become a place of refuge and a decent core workout when you turn the material.  Next we will explore material sources for your compost.  You can put a lot in a compost pile, but ratios matter and there are benefits and possible problems based on the material you use.