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Creating a Backyard Compost Pile

Your yardwaste, vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds are good for your garden! When you compost these materials in your backyard, the result is a rich, humus-like product that makes a great soil conditioner and fertilizer for all kinds of garden plants. You can easily start a compost pile in your own backyard by following these simple steps:

  • Select an appropriate location, ideally a level area in part sun and part shade.
  • Collect appropriate materials for composting such as: grass clippings, leaves, sawdust, fruit and vegetable scraps, straw, hay, coffee grounds, eggshells, nut shells, fireplace ashes, shredded newspaper, and any plant materials.

Do not use dairy products, meat, bones, grease, or fat! They may attract animals to your compost pile, or cause odor problems!

  • Enclose the compost pile on three sides with chicken wire, blocks, or other containment structure. If you do not wish to construct an enclosure, there are many commercially produced backyard composting units available for sale at garden and hardware stores.
  • Water the pile until it is damp but not soggy. If available, a layer of soil can be spread over the top of the pile to keep moisture in and add microorganisms.
  • The more often you mix or "turn" the pile, the faster it will compost. Turn the pile every few days and you'll have finished compost in about 2 months. Without any turning, it will take about a year to compost completely.
  • Add material to the pile as it becomes available, remembering to keep the pile damp so it composts properly.
  • Use the finished material in your garden, in potted plants, or as mulch around trees and shrubs. Compost is "finished" when it is dark and crumbly like soil.

For more information on backyard composting, visit these websites:

    • Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
    • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    • Basic Composting Information
    • Leaf Composting at Home
    • Using Leaf Compost