Set up a layered compost heap

Setting up a layered compost heap is a great way to start a new compost pile and does not require a bin (although you can use one). The layers provide a mix of textures, food sources, and dwelling places for the microorganisms and other invertebrates who turn yard waste and food scraps into black gold. You can start a compost heap at anytime of year, with the materials you use varying based on the season and what you have pulled out of the garden or stockpiled for this purpose.

  1. Loosen the soil 1 to two 2 feet deep to provide critters with easy access to your heap.
  2. Lay down sticks and old corn and sunflower stalks in a 2 ft by 2 ft square. The sticks help with aeration.  Air can get underneath the pile as well as on the sides.
  3. Pile 2 inches of old dried out yard waste – flower stems, straw, leaves, bean pod shells
  4. Pile 2 inches of manure or green waste – coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable waste, fresh plant material
  5. Pile 2 inches of soil or finished compost.
  6. Repeat until you use all of your material or your pile is tall enough for your standards.
  7. Cover the whole pile with leaves.

Layered Compost Pile in a 3 bin system

Compost is possibly the most concrete life cycle example we have in the garden.  We pull our frosted tomatoes, animal waste, and fallen leaves out of gardens, barns, and yards – put them in a pile – and in a couple months we have living soil full of bacteria and bugs that aerate, nourish, and sometimes even water our crops for us.  The composting gardener is not a vegetable gardener but a micro-organism farmer.

More and more scientists are looking at the biodiversity of soil rather than the nutrient content.  You can actually have your soil tested for beneficial bacteria and fungi.  Bacteria counts can tell you how much nitrogen and phosphorus your plants are getting, how much air is getting down to the roots, and what kind of diseases live in your soil.  ATTRA lists a number of places you can send soil samples for alternative soil test.