Composting 101

Getting Started
There are many different ways to make compost. The following guidelines will get you started, but soon your own experience will help you tailor a method that best fits your needs.

Build or Purchase a Compost Bin
The Town of Amherst offers compost bins for sale. Compost bins are also available from garden catalogs, nurseries, and hardware stores.

Enclosed compost piles keep out pests, hold heat and moisture in, and have a neat appearance, but successful bins can be as simple as a 3 or 4-sided enclosure made of wood pallets and wire or concrete blocks. A garbage can with drainage holes drilled in it will also work.

Setup the Bin
Setup the bin in a convenient shady area with good drainage. A pile that is about 3 feet square and 3 feet high will help maintain the heat generated by the composting organisms throughout the winter.

Start Your Pile
Start the pile with a layer of coarse material such as corn stalks to build in air passages. Add alternating layers of brown and green materials and mix them together. Sprinkle with soil every 12 inches. Be sure to bury food scraps in the center of the pile.

If you don’t have brown and green materials on hand at the same time, build your pile with browns and mix in greens as they become available. Save several bags of leaves to add in the spring and summer when browns are scarce.

Add Water
Add water as you build the pile if the materials are dry. Keep the composting material damp or it will not decompose.

Turn the Pile
As time goes on, keep oxygen available to the compost organisms by fluffing the pile with a hoe or compost turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile, so the top becomes the bottom, in spring and fall should result in finished compost within a year. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time.