Compost pit

How to Make Compost Step by Step

What is compost?

A number of people associate the word compost with “free fertilizer,” and they are right.  Compost is a mixture of decayed organic material that is used to increase soil fertility. It is also known as organic manure, animal manure or organic fertilizer. It can easily be made from commonly available material, most of which would otherwise be waste, at a very low cost.

These are some of the pros and cons of vermicomposting you need to know before trying it out, but a few cons can be prevented if you properly maintain and take care of your system.

The key to safe and efficient home-based composting is using a good container. Inexpensive bins can be as simple as hay bales or wooden pallets, but sometimes the best available material is actually an old portable plastic playpen. Thus comes the many different composting methods that exist now. They all come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Thus we have the best guide  on learning how to make your own composting bins and getting compost from them.

In this article, we tell you all there is to know about how to how to make compost step by step

Why make your own compost bin? (Advantages of making your own compost)

There are multiple reasons why a person would choose to make their own compost. They include:

  • Compared to alternative means of increasing soil fertility, composting is cheap. It is possible to make good compost manure without spending a dime.
  • Making your own compost is better and safer for your crops than buying compost manure from other sources because you control the ingredients you use and thus reduce possible negative effects to crops.
  • Composting helps manage waste generated around the home and in farms.
  • Compost manure is environmentally friendly. Inorganic fertilizers are known to have adverse effects on the environment. Also, composting reduces the amount of waste that ends up in the public waste management system, such as in landfills.
  • Composting helps get maximum value from organic materials. Items that would otherwise be of no use such as leaves that have from surrounding trees and banana peels become valuable.
  • Using compost manure is better for the long-term fertility of your land compared to inorganic fertilizers.

Figure 1: Making your own compost reduces the amount of waste that ends up in landfills

The science behind making your own composting bin

All organic material such as plants eventually ends up decomposing. Decomposition is the result of the action of microorganisms on organic material. Bacteria feed on the material and excrete nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and magnesium, which are needed by plants. Organisms such as worms also contribute to decay by feeding on organic material and producing nutrient rich humus.

The composting process provides optimal conditions for microorganisms involved in decomposition to thrive, thus speeding up the process. To thrive, the organisms need nutrients, moisture, warm temperature and oxygen.

Having this knowledge in mind when making your own compost will increase your chances of success and make your process more efficient.

Figure 2: Making compost involves speeding up the natural process of decomposition

How to Make Your Own compost step by step

Now that you know how composting works, you can start making your own compost, following the step by step procedure outlined below.

  1. Choose an appropriate composting method according to your situation.
  2. Pick and prepare a location for the compost heap.
  3. Select a suitable composting bin and set it up.
  4. Implement an effective system for gathering compost material.
  5. Ready all the composting materials you will use.
  6. Set up your composting heap (a step by step process).
  7. Maintain the heap.
  8. Harvest your compost.

1. Choose an appropriate composting method according to your situation.

Depending on factors such as availability of organic material and prevailing weather conditions, people use different methods of composting. It is not advisable to replicate a method without making adjustments for your situation because the results may not be as desired. There is no one-fits-all method of composting and there are many different methods that produce the desired result. You should consider various methods and eventually come up with a customized process.

These are the factors to consider when deciding on a composting method:

  • Quantity of material. The method used when large quantities of material are available to be composted like on a large farm will necessarily be different from the process used in a setup such as a kitchen garden.
  • Availability of labor to be used in the composting process. Some methods are labor intensive, while others involve letting the compost heap take due course.
  • The level of experience in composting. Some methods require expertise and probably won’t work out well for a beginner. Other methods depend on the use of equipment such as thermometers to track temperature, as well as specially made composting aerators. Failure to use such equipment will likely lead to disappointing results.
  • The amount of water available. If you are composting in a dry area, there are methods you shouldn’t use because they require a lot of water.
  • The time in which the compost needs to be ready. Some methods are fast and are used when the compost is urgently needed. Other methods, for example those where air is cut off and decomposition depends on anaerobic organisms, take longer.

“There is no one-fits-all method of composting and there are many different methods that produce the desired results”

Keep the above factors in mind as you choose a composting method. Below is a brief outline of different methods of making your own compost:

  1. Basket method. It is perfect when the composting materials available are limited, for example when making compost in a home garden. Small circular holes, about 60 cm in depth and diameter, are dug and used to make compost. The number of holes increases with the availability of material.
  2. Boma method. This is suitable for livestock farmers who keep animals such as cows or goats in an enclosure. Ideally, the enclosure should be lined with a bedding that is refreshed regularly, for example after every week. The bedding soaks up droppings and urine, which is rich in nutrients. It can be made up of any dry organic materials such as dry leaves or grass and sawdust. The manure removed from the boma should be added to a compost heap immediately and the boma can be cleared once a week.
  3. Heating method. This method is continuous, with new material being added to the heap after a few days. Once the first heap is made, it is trampled on to force out all the air. The new material added on top of it will cut off air supply, resulting in an anaerobic process that produces a lot of heat.
  4. Indore method. The composting heap is made up of a sequence of layers, which includes: material that is difficult to decompose at the bottom, material that is easy to decompose, animal manure and some soil at the top. The sequence is repeated until the heap is about two meters high. The heap is turned over regularly to ensure aeration and thorough composting.
  5. Bangalore method. Here, a similar process to the Indore method is employed but with some differences. A few days after the heap is completed, it is closed off from air by covering it with mud. The decomposition process goes on but more slowly because it’s taking place anaerobically.
  6. Pit or trench method. A pit or trench is dug and lined with clay to decrease water loss. Preferably, several pits are dug next to each other to facilitate turning. Multiple pits also make the composting process continuous.

Figure 3: The indore method is one of the most common ways of making compost

2.      Pick and clear a location for the compost heap.

The location of the heap should be such that it’s not far from the source of waste. For example, if the material to be used includes food scrapings and other kitchen waste, the heap should be near the kitchen. If the compost material is coming from the farm, for example slashed crops, then the heap should be placed near the farm.

However, you should also consider the fact that compost heaps may get smelly and unattractive. As such, the heap should be placed in such a way that it won’t be a nuisance. In addition, it helps if it can be seen from the house, because you’ll know when animals such as dogs are interfering with it and take corrective action. The heap should also be placed near a water source because the compost may require occasional watering.

Whether to place the heap under direct sunlight depends on whether there’ll be a lid over the heap. Direct sunlight dries up the heap quickly and is not preferrable. However, if the heap is under a lid, it can get a real boost from the sun and be ready in a shorter time.

Once you’ve chosen a good location, clear it and set up the composting bin.

3.      Select and set up a suitable composting bin.

First, you need to decide whether to have a composting bin. It is possible to make good compost without having a bin so you can choose not to have one. This decision can be influenced by whether your composting location is underground or above ground. If it’s underground, you’ll use pits and won’t need bins. It can also depend on whether you want to spend money buying a bin or having one constructed for you.

The factors above considered; it is advisable to have a bin for several reasons. One, it becomes easier to protect the heap from marauders such as neighborhood dogs.

Second, a bin can be easily covered, which is important if the heap is in the open and vulnerable to direct sunlight. Direct heat from the sun causes the heap to dry up fast, which is undesirable because the microorganisms responsible for decomposition require some moisture to thrive. A covered heap allows you to take advantage of the sun’s heat to speed up the composting process without destroying the decomposing microorganisms.

Covering the heap with a lid also helps avoid excess water in case of heavy rains.

The third advantage is that if the compost is in a bin, it won’t be affected by run off water. Too much water will negatively affect the composting process and is therefore undesirable.

Another advantage of having a bin is that it becomes easier to manipulate the compost heap and keep it neat. When turning the heap for example, a bin that allows you to reach the material at the bottom comes in handy.

If you decide that you want a bin, you can buy specially constructed compost bins, have one made or make one yourself with instructions that are easily available on the internet.

Figure 4: A multiple compartment bin helps make the composting process continuous

4.      Implement an effective system for gathering compost material.

Regardless of the material you will use to make your compost, you need to come up with an efficient system of collection. If, for example, you’ll be using material from the kitchen such as food scraps, then you need to have a bin nearby. This makes it easy to collect the food remains and other organic material such as fruit peelings. Covering the bin leads to anaerobic decomposition, which makes the material smelly. It is therefore advisable to have an open bin because it can go for longer without reeking. Even so, if you empty the bin regularly, for example daily, then there’s no chance of the decomposition process starting


Figure 5: Kitchen waste is useful in making compost and can be collected in a stylish way

On the other hand, if most of your material comes from the farm, then you should set up the heap near the farm to make collection easier.

Once you’ve already set up your composting heap, it is not advisable to continue adding material because it may interfere with the ongoing composting process. Since composting material such as food scraps is generated on a continuous basis, you will need a place to hold incoming material before it can be added into a compost heap. It is therefore advisable to have more than one bins; one for holding the compost heap and the other for collecting composting material.

5.      Ready all the composting material you will use

Usually, when composting, one makes use of the materials available. People make compost for a variety of reasons. On one end of the spectrum, there are some who compost solely to recycle kitchen waste and on the other end are those for whom composting is a crucial part of their system of farming. As such, the materials available will be different.

However, to produce your own compost effectively, there are materials that are a must have. You should ensure you have all these materials before building the compost heap:

  • A source of active microbes such as soil or finished compost.
  • Fresh organic material that is easily decomposable. Such material produces a lot of nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plants.
  • Organic material that is difficult to decompose. Such material enriches your compost with carbon, another important plant nutrient. It also balances your heap and ensures that it doesn’t turn acidic.
  • Material like sawdust to promote aeration within the heap.

It is important to mix easily decomposable material with material that is difficult to decompose to ensure the resulting compost has the right mixture of carbon and nitrogen

The following are optional material, along some that are made necessary by certain methods:

  • Compost booster. You can use this to increase the number of microbes in your compost.
  • Compost activators. Commercially made to increase nitrogen and microbes in your heap.
  • Wood ash. In case you’ve used too much acidic material, you can neutralize the pH using wood ash.
  • Kelp meal, lake weed and algae to boost microorganisms.
  • Sources of nitrogen such as blood meal. These come in handy if you don’t have enough fresh organic material that is easily decomposable.

Determine all the material you will need and gather it before setting out to build your heap.

6.      Set up your composting heap (a step by step process)

Depending on the composting method you’ve chosen, proceed to set up your compost heap.

Below are common steps in the composting process that most compost methods share:

  1. At the bottom of your heap, have a layer of coarse material like corn cobs and sticks. This will promote aeration.
  2. Next, have a layer of material that is difficult to decompose, or a layer of browns as some people refer to it.
  3. Sprinkle the layer of browns with some of the ready-made compost or soil you had gathered.
  4. Sprinkle the heap with water.
  5. Add a layer of easily decomposable material, or greens as commonly called.
  6. Alternate layers of browns and greens until the heap gets to the desired height. Before adding a layer, add water generously.
  7. If you’re using a lid, cover the heap. Do it in such a way that the heap will continue being aerated.

Figure 6: An example of a compost heap

7.       Maintain the heap.

How to maintain your compost heap:

  • After some time, maybe a week, turn the heap so that the undecomposed material that is on top ends up at the bottom. Turn regularly.
  • Keep checking the moisture of the heap and adjusting as you find necessary. If the heap is too dry, add water. If the temperature is too low, it means the heap is “dead” and the composting process has stopped. You can revive it by reintroducing microbes for example by adding soil or fresh manure. Afterwards, check that all conditions for microorganisms to thrive such as aeration, moisture and adequate nutrients are met.
  • Check to ensure that marauders such as neighborhood dogs aren’t messing with the compost heap.

8.      Harvest your manure

The composting process can take as few as three months or as many as six months, depending on factors such as the method you used. With that in mind, it is important to know how to tell whether compost is ready for use.

There are many tips to use in this area. However, rather than following a checklist that someone else uses, it helps to remember the underlying principle of composting. Composting is simply decomposition that has been speeded up. Decomposition turns organic material into soil. It follows that if the composting process has occurred effectively and is finished, the end product will be close to soil.

If it feels, looks and smells like soil, then it’s ready

Appearance, smell and feel can be used to judge. If it feels, looks and smells like soil, then your composting is complete. If it differs from soil, for example by producing a sour smell, or by being too hot, then it’s probably not complete. Obviously, none of the original materials should be recognizable at the end of the process.

Figure 7: Most organic material makes for perfect compost ingredients

Materials to use when making compost:

  • Plant prunings and crop residue.
  • Food scraps, excluding animal products.
  • Spoiled almond, soy or coconut milk.
  • Cooked rice and pasta.
  • Leaves.
  • Animal manure.
  • Grass.
  • Dry dog or cat food.
  • Old herbs and spices.
  • Dust for example from sweeping.
  • Spoiled tomato sauce.
  • Avocado pits.
  • Old jelly and jam.
  • Stale beer and wine.
  • Urine.
  • Flowers from floral arrangements.

Additional items that can be used to make compost but need special preparation or more time:

  • Saw dust.
  • Twigs.
  • Wood chippings.
  • Hair.
  • Corn cobs.
  • Nut shells.
  • Toothpicks.
  • Wine corks.
  • Dry pasta.
  • Old string.
  • Used clothes.
  • Tissues.
  • Shredded black and white newspaper.
  • Cardboard.
  • Egg cartons.

What not to include when making compost manure:

  • Inorganic material. Glass, plastic and metal should be avoided because they won’t decompose and won’t add value to your manure.
  • Coal ash. Ash from coal contains high contents of sulfur and iron, and can harm plants.
  • Diseased plants. If the disease-causing microorganisms are not destroyed in the composting process, they will spread to other plants when you use the manure you’ve produced.
  • Colored paper. Ink contains heavy metals and other toxic materials that should be avoided.
  • Vegetation like grass on which pesticides were recently used.
  • Meat, bones, fish, fats, dairy products. Such components may overheat your heap. Moreover, the stench may attract animals who will interfere with the heap.
  • Pet droppings. Pet dung may contain disease causing organisms that can make compost hazardous to handle.

Avoid meat, bones, fish, fats and dairy products when making compost

Tips for making better compost in a shorter time:

  • Keeping your compost hot for a long time will kill all pathogens and weed seeds. A temperature of 55 degrees Celsius for 21 days will eradicate all bacterial and most fungal pathogens.
  • To avoid spreading weeds and diseases, don’t add weeds or diseased plants to your compost pile.
  • If you’ve added acidic material such as pine needles to your compost heap, adding wood ash will help optimize the pH of your manure, so that it does not get too acidic.
  • Use compost activators, which add nitrogen and or microorganisms, both of which boost the decomposition process. Sources of nitrogen include blood meal, finished manure and cottonseed meal. Commercially available compost starters can help boost the content of microorganisms in your pile.
  • Reduce the size of your materials to make it easier for bacteria to act on them and speed up the composting process.
  • Turn your compost heap regularly to ensure proper oxygen supply.
  • Gather all compost materials over a few days then add it into your heap at once. The more material you add at a time, the hotter the compost heap will be. Higher temperatures are good for composting because they help speed up the process.
  • Keep your compost heap in the sun to take advantage of the heat, which will lead to faster decomposition.
  • You may add kelp meal, lake weed and mineral rich algae to boost the content of microorganisms in your heap.
  • To increase aeration, you can let around ten per cent of your composting material be wood chips.

Figure 8: wood chips promote aeration, which is essential in making compost

Mistakes to avoid when making compost:

  • Adding grass to the compost heap as a lump. Grass is a common compost ingredient. However, it quickly goes anaerobic in the absence of oxygen, meaning that it can easily fail to decompose. To ensure it decomposes, spread out the grass instead of adding it to the heap as a lump. You can also mix it with other ingredients like soil or sawdust before adding it into the heap.
  • Using large materials as ingredients. This can slow down the decomposition process. It is better to chop the ingredients into small pieces to make it easier for microorganisms to act on the material.
  • Adding diseased plants. You will probably end up spreading diseases to your crops, resulting in huge losses. Avoid suspicious looking plants when adding ingredients to your compost heap.
  • Adding weeds that have seeded. You don’t want to be an agent for spreading weeds on your farm. It is advisable to avoid using weeds as ingredients when making manure.
  • Using huge amounts of sawdust, wood chippings and twigs. They have high carbon content and will take longer to decompose. Add them to the heap in moderate amounts and mix them with other ingredients to ensure that maximum surface area is exposed to microbes.

Making your own compost is easy. There is no reason why you should buy fertilizer when it’s possible for you to make your own. Composting is good for you, good for the environment, good for your crops and good for the sustainable use of your farm. Have fun composting.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *