Building Your Own Compost Pile

General Composting Rules

Composting temperature

  • The composting pile should be at least 1 cubic yard (3' x 3' x 3'). Ideal size is a 3 to 5 foot square.
  • Locate the composting pile on level, well-drained ground near a water source.
  • Stay away from wooden fences and buildings.
  • Don’t set up over shallow tree roots.
  • Mix Greens (for nitrogen) with Browns (for carbon) at a 2:1 Green/Brown ratio.
  • Moisten materials as you add them and leave a concave depression at the top of the pile to capture rain. The composting pile should be kept about as damp as a wrung out sponge. It is a good idea to cover the composting pile during periods of very high moisture.
  • Add water as needed to maintain correct moisture.
  • Turn, fluff or aerate the composting pile every week.
  • The composting is complete (approximately 3 to 6 months) when it is dark brown-black, crumbly and sweet smelling. The temperature of the pile will also drop to ambient air temperature from a composting temperature of 120° - 150° F (48° - 66° C) when composting is complete.
  • Age one month after removal from your bin before using as a soil amendment (it should be fully decomposed!).
Problem Solution
Odor Turn more frequently, add Browns if necessary
Pile too wet Turn more frequently, add Browns if necessary
Pile does not get hot Pile too small
Organics not degrading Check moisture, turn more frequently, add Greens, fresh manure, blood meal or urea
Rodents Remove and stop adding food scraps, turn more frequently and keep moist
Pets Bury food scraps under one foot of material and put pallet on top as lid
Insects Keep moist and turn more frequently


Building a Composting Pile

  • A composting pile is a simple heap of yard waste.
  • In order to keep the pile manageable, try to limit the size to 5 feet high and 5 feet wide.
  • Contain the heap by piling it against an existing wire fence or digging a 10 – 15 inch pit beneath it.

Building a Portable Composting Bin

Portable composting bin

  • A portable composting bin is best made of woven wire (e.g., hardware cloth with ½" openings).
  • Need from 11 ft. to 23 ft. of hardware cloth 3 ft. wide.
  • Tie the ends together with hooks or wire.
  • You can also build a framed composting bin with treated lumber and hardware cloth.
  • Remember to try to limit the framed bin's size to 5' x 5' x 5' with a minimum of 3' x 3' x 3'.

Building a Pallet Bin

  • Need 5 pallets with slat spacing of ½" – 1".
  • Place 1 pallet with slats up on the ground.
  • Composting palletArrange the remaining pallets upright (short sides up) around each side of the base to form a box.
  • Attach the sides at each corner with wire, coat hangers, rope, etc.
  • Sides last 4 to 6 years; replace as needed.
  • Bottom lasts 1 to 2 years; drop another fresh pallet over the old base when needed.
  • By using a total of 9 pallets you can transform the pallet bin into a multi-bin unit.
  • Add a 2nd bottom pallet next to the side of the 1st bin.
  • Fasten the 3 additional pallets around it. Making sure it is tied into the 1st bin.
  • Use the 2nd bin to aerate the composting pile by move the composting pile from 1 side to the other.
  • By adding a 3rd bin (4 additional pallets), you can also have a bin to store the finished compost in while it cures for the month after composting is complete.

Other Bins

  • In addition to the bins you make yourself, there are a number of ready-made bins currently on the market and available at local stores or through your County's recycling office.

For more information, contact The Waste Diversion and Utilization Program at 410-537-3314.​​​.

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