Building a Backyard Compost Pile for the Best Organic Gardening Dirt

Happy Wednesday, everyone! Let’s talk about compost.

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine mentioned that she wanted to learn how to compost because she was getting into organic gardening. At first I was like, “it’s just throwing kitchen and yard waste into a hole in the ground,” and then I realized that there really are best practices for composting that ensure great, rich, useable dirt. So, today I’m taking a break from writing about yummy foods in order to talk about this amazing, wallet-friendly, eco-friendly practice.

Imagine ditching the high-priced bags of soil and making your own the nutrient-rich soil right in your own backyard! It’s easier than you think. Please trust me. I never thought I’d “make dirt” at home, but I gave it a try and would never go back. Making organic compost at home is really nothing more than combining “browns,” “greens,” and water in one of many types of vessels.

For ours, we chose a shady spot by the side of our house and dug a hole about five feet long, three feet wide, and three feet deep. We then lined it with landscape plastic to prevent all the good nutrients, moisture, and earthworms from getting out. And, because we live by the beach and our soil is mostly sand, we wanted to avoid mixing that in with our good stuff.

For our raw materials, we throw in all fruit and vegetable scraps from our kitchen. Those are “green” things. We tend to stay away from large pits or seeds from things like peaches, nectarines, or mangos because they take so long to break down, but all else is fair game. A lot of people say to chop up things finely before throwing them in the pile, but if you don’t, it’s not going to ruin your compost. The larger pieces will just take a bit longer to break down. Take the time if you want. It’s up to you. We also put in most of our cut grass (“green”) and leaves from the yard (“brown”). We also put in healthy and disease-free veggie plants at the end of the growing season. Don’t put in anything questionable.

The EPA has fantastic information on home composting.

We turn our compost pile once a week with a pitchfork. It’s funny to even say that we own one of those. But, such is the life of a gardener. OK, so turn your pile frequently. Oxygen helps things break down, and aeration is good for the whole decomposition process. And don’t let the pile get too dry. Add water until it’s just moist and work it through.

We keep our pile covered with landscape plastic. Like I said, though, ours is just a hole we dug. There are plenty of fancy compost tumblers and containers, but we went the most economical route. We’ve gotten to use a few cubic yards since we started composting last year. This is what our pile looks like after we add fresh scraps to it.

You can see the more decomposed stuff beneath. If we had room, we’d have more than one pile to house the different stages of decomp, but we don’t, so we just wait until we have a ton to use, use it, and then start over. This is what it looks like after more time has passed.

Please have patience with the process. Trust me. This pile was about one month from being perfect dirt. I never thought I’d be as excited for dirt as say a pair of new Valentino heels, but alas…

Look, composting may not be glamorous or smell like roses, but it’s more than worth it. When all is said and done and after microbes and earthworms (if you’re so fortunate) have done their jobs, you’ll have rich, beautiful, organic garden soil that you’re plants will love. And Mother Nature will reward you handsomely for your efforts with wonderful volunteer plants that may sprout from your garden after you’ve added your compost. All of the photos below of are of volunteer plants we had just this Spring.




It may take up to six months for a pile of our size to completely break down, but be patient. It’s worth the wait. Happy gardening, everyone!


2 thoughts on “Building a Backyard Compost Pile for the Best Organic Gardening Dirt

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. It brings me back to my childhood when we had an organic garden in the middle of New York City in the 1960’s. Its great to see a new generation of organic gardeners. I agree that there is nothing better than the fruits and veggies when grown in organic soil. Keep up the good work and make Mother Nature Proud.

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