If you happen to have a yard, you're probably considering building an outdoor compost pile. Good decision. Here's how to set it up:

  • Until you get the procedure down to a science where it's not attracting rodents or smelling up the neighborhood, try a location at least a few feet from your house (and your neighbors' houses), but close enough so you don't have to trudge too far to add to it or maintain it.

  • Since you'll be controlling the moisture of the pile, it'll need to be well-ventilated (meaning, at least two feet from fences, walls, trees, etc.). It also has to be within reach of a hose. If you live in a desert region, put it in the shade if possible, so the sun doesn't bake the stuff into a nice sculpture o' rot that'll take years to decompose. If you're in a rainy climate, you might want to cover the pile so it doesn't get soaked all the time. A too-wet pile won't get enough air to properly compost, and cause the gunk to smell bad.

  • Don't locate it too close to your vegetable garden (if you have one), since you don't want it to be a pest-beacon for your tempting tomato vines.

  • While a literal pile on the ground will do just fine, enclosing it in a bin gives you a heck of a lot more control over its maintenance. So be sure to check your local ordinances for the legality of recycling food scraps. Most urban areas don't allow open composting because of the potential to attract pests, but some areas allow outdoor composting in special containers you can buy at a nursery, hardware store, or online. These bins usually range in price from $60 to $100 depending on their durability and rodent-proofness.

  • Many commercial bins are designed for "ease of use" and provide handy-dandy features like rotating drums, but these are usually too small to allow for hot composting, so make sure you get one that's big enough to make hot compost.

  • For the pile to be able to reach the temperatures it needs while still allowing the center to breathe, the bin should be between three and five feet cubed (that is, three to five feet wide, long, and tall).

  • If the city or county says it's okay and you don't think you'll have a problem with rats, raccoons, or bears, it's easy to build your own bin out of chicken wire, wood, cement blocks, straw bales, or a combination of the above. If you want to cut down on the manual labor of aerating the pile with a pitchfork every few days, chicken wire or hardware cloth is best for the sides.

  • It's a good idea to give the bottom breathing-room too. You can enclose the bottom with wire and elevate the entire bin on bricks or wood, or you can simply lay a groundwork of sticks on the bottom of the pile to allow some airflow.

  • While you're at it, you might want to build a second bin right next to the first. Though it's not absolutely necessary, having a spare bin cuts down labor when you're "turning" the pile (which we'll discuss later).