Composting can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be. We have found that a simple pile works best for us, but bins to hold the compost can be made out of a wide variety of materials… like chicken wire, bricks, concrete blocks, bales of hay, or railroad ties. For the best results a compost pile should be at least three feet long by three feet wide by three feet high, but no higher than five feet or the materials in the center of the pile won’t get enough oxygen and therefore won’t decompose completely. If you need only a small compost bin, a twenty or thirty gallon garbage can with holes punched in the bottom and sides will do the job.

Completed compost, ready to be used

We have a lot of garden “green stuff,” animal bedding, and wood ashes to take care of, so we keep two or three compost piles “working” all the time. Right now our most current pile is just starting to heat up, another pile is still warm but not hot, and the third pile is lovely black ready to use compost.

Here is how we start a new compost pile. First we decide on an inconspicuous, out of the way location, away from the house so we’re not always having to look at a compost pile. We have lots of small trees and brush on the outskirts of our property, and these spots are perfect for our compost piles because they get lots of sun. We have found that it helps to start with a layer of soil, because the soil already contains microorganisms that will jump start the decomposition. Then we add composting material as we have it… weeds pulled from the gardens, grass clippings, shredded leaves, vegetable and fruit peelings, and the wood shavings and manure from our goat. Our approach to composting is very relaxed… we don’t think too much about proportions and just add whatever we have at the time. We also do not turn the piles because we have never needed to. As long as the material we add is natural and is kept moist, it will all decompose quickly. A compost pile made this way has only a pleasant “woodsy” odor and we have never had problem with flies or rodents.

Our current compost pile is “working”… 130°F and rising

What can be composted? Anything organic and vegetable… straw, sawdust, hay, leaves, shredded twigs, bark, and wood, pine needles, coffee grounds, eggshells, unusable garden produce, vegetable and fruit peels.

What shouldn’t be composted? Cat or dog litter or manure, meat, bones, grease, cheese, eggs, diseased material or pesticide-sprayed material.

We take paper and cardboard to the recycling center instead of composting them because both undoubtedly contain soy or soy inks. (I am allergic to soy.) We also do not compost meat scraps, bones, or dairy products because they would make the pile smell and would also slow down the decomposition rate. Meat and dairy products can, however, be composted separately in a fermenting bin made from a garbage can… the process is the same, except an enzyme is added to accelerate the process. With the added enzyme, there should be no odor there, either.