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Easy step by step instructions for making compost in your backyard!

Confused on how you should layer compost?

Composting is actually very easy once you get the hang of what you are doing!

What is compost?

Compost is a mixture of various materials such as leaves, vegetable & fruit peelings, manure, eggshells, etc.

These materials are combined and when they interact with each other, the air & the elements, you get lovely compost for your spring or fall gardens!

Why should you layer compost?

First of all let’s clear up this myth:

You do not need to layer compost!

That’s right, layering compost is not a necessity and if you find that you just don’t have the time then by all means just mix it the normal way!

I grew up not layering compost and our compost turned out fine!

However, the benefit to layering compost is that it breaks down more quickly!

So you might want to try it if you are needing it sooner than later!

Note that doesn’t mean it will break down overnight, even with the “fast” method, it takes about 90 days to break down.

If you want compost for your spring garden beds then you need to get on it before then.

Fall is such a great time because you have lots of leaves and branches to start your compost pile! You can also check out this article on how to help your compost pile decompose faster.

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How do you make compost?

Anyone who gardens on the regular will tell you that’s there fierce arguments on how to make good compost!

However, the general consensus it that you need a good mixture of what is normally called greens & browns.

What is the green in compost?

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Greens are the wet, moist, and fresh part of compost.

What is the brown in compost?

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Browns are dry, dead, and fibrous part of compost.

Why to add greens to your compost

Greens have a high amount of nitrogen in them which helps your compost to decompose faster.

Greens provide the necessary protein (nitrogen) to the compost microbes.

Different types of greens contain different amounts of nitrogen.

Pro tip:

Research how high in nitrogen a green is before adding it to your compost!

Some greens such as coffee grounds & grass clippings are very high in nitrogen and cause deleterious effects if too much is used!

Compost Info Guide has an excellent guide on green compost ratios.

When composting, start with the greens below:


  • Fruit Waste (banana peels, apple cores, peach skins, lemon & orange peels, etc.)
  • Vegetable Waste (potato & carrots skins & tops, old salad & herbs that are going bad or badly wilted, onion & garlic peels, etc.)
  • Coffee grounds (of course, organic is best!)
  • Loose leaf tea & tea bags (I love this cause I always felt bad throwing tea bags that had been brewed once away! Stick with cotton or hemp tea bags and avoid synthetics!)
  • Cooked rice or pasta
  • Beer and wine that have gone flat (does this really happen?)
  • Moldy cheese (don’t use too much!)
  • Dead or live leaves from houseplants
  • Grass of course!
  • Manure-cow, goat, horse, chicken, bats
  • Pet droppings & beddings (not dog or cat poop)

Why to add Browns to your compost

Browns are added to compost because they are high in carbon and an energy source for compost microbes.

Here are the browns that are compostable:

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  • Old,crumpled paper, bills, papertowel (shred first!)
  • Newspapers
  • Leaves (think fall)
  • Compost
  • Chopped branches/sticks
  • Soil
  • Wood chips or sawdust
  • Hay
  • Straw
  • Cardboard (make into a slurry or break down first)
  • Eggshells
  • Wood ash

 What is the ratio of brown to green in compost?

To have healthy compost, you should try to get the correct ratio of brown and green in your compost.

This is also another benefit of layering compost because it’s pretty easy to keep track that way!

Azure Standard recommends a ratio of 2 parts green and 1 part brown  (2:1) for a well balanced and healthy compost.

You may also see the recommended ratio of 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen (25-30:1).

Don’t worry!!! This ratio works out to the same amount as the 2:1 ratio!

Homecompostingmadeeasy says that if you use a 5 gallon bucket packed with brown and 2 five gallon buckets of green, you should have the correct ratio of green and browns for your compost!

Now let’s figure out how to layer your compost!

Layering compost for beginners

Mmm. Doesn’t that cake look yummy? Layering compost is much like layering chocolate cake!

You simply place the layers on top of another!

  • (1st layer) Put down a coarse layer of brown.

There is some controversy on this, but most research says to begin your bottom layers with a brown, coarse layer because it helps to bring air to the bottom of the composting pile.

Think of larger sticks, corncobs,  vegetable or flower stalks, etc.

You can choose to eliminate this step because as you aerate your compost it all gets mixed up anyway!

  • (2nd layer) Place the correct ratio 2:1 of brown and green over the 1st layer 6-8 inches deep.
    • Do not pack the compostables to allow for proper aeration.
    • Moisten with the two layers with water.
  • (3rd layer) Heat up your pile by adding a starter. For organic gardening stick with animal manure. These are the recommend kinds of manure you can use in your compost:
    • Chicken
    • Rabbit
    • Bat
    • Horse
    • Cow
    • goat

Pro Tip:

Start your composting pile on the bare ground so that the natural bacteria found in soil will interact with your compostables!

  • (4th layer) Finish your pile by adding finished compost or garden soil 1-2 inches deep.
  • Moisten the last two layers.
  • Aerate your compost pile by poking holes 3-6 inches apart on the top.
  • Use a rebar or an aerator and make sure the holes are large enough that they maintain their shape after the rebar or aerator is removed.
Check out my video on my DIY compost bins! I show you the different layers in the compost plus examples of the brown & green in compost!

How often should I turn my compost?

The general rule of thumb is to turn your compost every 3-7 days.

As your compost breaks down, you can turn it less frequently.

However gardens alive disagrees with this theory stating that if your compost pile is in contact with the ground, you should be able to turn it at max 2 times.

This is if you have done your job of mixing the proper ratios of green and brown and keeping your compost pile moist.

Pro Tip:

Your compost pile is perfectly moist if you can squeeze a drop of water from a handful of working compost.

How to make a compost bin

You don’t have to rush out and buy expensive compost bins or tumbles.

You can diy a compost bin very easily like we did.

DIY compost bin

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(1st Idea)

For easy composting at home:

  • Pound 4 t poles and anchor firmly into the ground.
  • Use the post made for driving tbars or a rubber mallet.
  • Next wrap hardware cloth around the tpoles. We left the front section open so it was easier to turn the compost pile.
  • Fasten the hardware cloth to the tpoles with zip ties.
  • Secure the front with zip ties or wire until it needs to be open.

Pro Tip:

 Add pallet slats to make the composting bin sturdier.

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(2nd Idea)

Build your compost bin out of pallets.

  • Place four pallets end to end and use long enough screws to connect them.
  • Break down the pallet in the front enough so that you can easily reach in to fill and stir your compost pile.

Easy enough? Right?

If you want your compost bin to look a little fancier, you can actually break down the pallet slats and rebuild your bin like in the above picture.

However this requires being able to pull the slats up with a pallet jack or sawing through the nails like my husband did.

Pro Tip:

Find free or cheap pallets through FB marketplace or craiglist! Don’t forget to use caution when meeting up with strangers!

In conclusion you can easily make your own compost bin! However, you may want to buy your own if you don’t have a handy hubby or tools like I do.

How to layer compost for beginners

Also compost tumblers take the strain off your back and efficiently turns your compost for you!

I hope my post has cleared up a lot of your questions on how to layer compost, what kind of materials are compostable, the difference between green and brown in compost, etc.

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No more asking if coffee grounds are green or brown compost!

Comment and let me know if you compost or have tried it!!!

Any tricks you would like to share?

Thanks for stopping by!!!

Mrs. G