Your First Compost Heap

Worried about composting? Here's the scoop.


Who's afraid of the big, bad compost heap?

Well, I was. Initially.

And I'm not alone. At CG we get quite a few emails (as well as Facebook posts) from those who want to start a compost heap for ecological, economic and just plain common-sense reasons, but have their reservations.

A few include:

  • It might be smelly. 
  • It might attract rats, roaches and other unsavory creatures.
  • It will rot and be disgusting.
  • Weeds and allergens might begin to grow in it.
  • Animals will get into it, scatter it everywhere and create a messy look to the yard/lawn.
  • It looks difficult and time-consuming to create, maintain and then utilize as finished compost.

I'm not going to brush aside any of the above. They ARE valid concerns...but they're not necessarily accurate. Let's take a closer look at each:

"It might be smelly."

Compost heaps or compost bins, when compiled correctly, should have very minimal odor. Compost piles are usually layers of dry and wet materials (see this article and vid). They also exclude certain items, like meat or bones. This means they decompose, but in a controlled way based on the natural activity of microbes.

If you're concerned about any odor at all in your compost pile, invest in or make your own compost bin. It's so easy; even a trash can with holes drilled in the bottom can serve as a bin. Also check with your city; some have environmental initiatives that offer compost bins at very low prices. 

"It might attract rats, roaches and other unsavory creatures."

This is much less likely when you keep your bin in the correct proportions, as described in the article above. This is actually very simple to accomplish; you're just mixing your "brown" with "green" (wet) materials. Keeping the developing compost in bins can help this issue as well. And since the decomposition is slower, insects will find it less appealing.

"It will rot and be disgusting."

Again, you're looking for a steady decomposition rate, not accelerated rotting. Tip: purchase a reliable compost thermometer and check about once a week to make sure your heap is in the correct range. This takes just a few seconds to do and temperature variations can easily be corrected (watch the vid linked above for ideas).

"Weeds and allergens might begin to grow in it."

It's true that decomposing materials are a great breeding ground for weeds. Your best tips for keeping weeds out: Don't put ANY weeds into your pile as part of your "green" materials, and cover the bin so sunlight isn't getting in.

"Animals will get into it and scatter it."

Keep the bin contained, or place a tarp over the heap. Animals are curious, yes. But most people we know who keep non-contained heaps have little problem with scattering to any great extent unless they live on a border to woods or have curious animals of their own who are allowed outdoors. A quick raking should put things back in order.

It looks difficult and time-consuming to create, maintain and then utilize as finished compost.

Let me be honest: this was MY BIGGEST concern. I have enough to do!

In reality, composting simply involves putting certain table scraps, paper and lawn materials into the bin in approximate quantities. You were already taking the food to your trash can; now, instead, you're taking it outside. That's a few extra steps, but it shouldn't be exceptionally time-consumptive.

Taking the temperature of your heap and giving it a good weekly or twice-a-week mix with a rake or stick take a minute or two. And most "fixes," like covering or uncovering to reduce/allow heat, are quick, too.

As for the actual composting process, nature takes care of that. You'll be surprised how easy and rewarding it is to get fertile, usable compost/mulch in just a few weeks. Have a compost heap? Have questions about cultivating one? Ask us! We're always glad to help.


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