Build A Compost Pile
Like a Professional

Do you want to build a compost pile like the experts? If so, look no further than the information below. We're going to provide you with a complete step-by-step guide through the entire compost pile building process.

Before we get going, let's make sure you're in the right place. The information below is specifically for those of you that want to compost outdoors on a large scale (e.g. large-scale composting operations or commercial composting businesses). If you're interested in learning more about small-scale composting, please visit the following page - Making a Compost Pile.

Now that we know you're in the right place, let's get started.

When large-scale composting, there are several different techniques you can use to build a compost pile. For the purposes of this guide we've chosen a very common technique known as windrow composting.

Windrow composting places a mixture of composting ingredients in a long, narrow pile. See picture below. Building and maintaining your compost pile in this shape is fairly easy to do with common farm equipment.

windrow composting

Build A Compost Pile - Step 1 (Optional)

Grind/Shred Your Ingredients

Whether or not you begin with this step is completely dependent on the ingredients you're using in your compost recipe. Most materials do NOT need to be ground, however, some do. We advise grinding the following materials: yard waste, newspaper, cardboard, and larger crop residues (e.g. corn stalks).

There are several types of composting equipment that are commonly used for this purpose: shear shredders, hammer mills, tub grinders, and chippers. If we haven't already, we'll be reviewing each piece of composting equipment in the very near future.

Build a Compost Pile - Step 2

Mixing Materials and Building Your Pile

There are several different methods that can be employed to mix your compost materials. We're going to highlight the most simple one. It uses a small tractor with a power take-off (PTO), a manure spreader, and an additional machine for loading the spreader.

This step begins with the tractor hitched to the manure spreader, which has been loaded with a blend of compost ingredients. As the beaters in the spreader are engaged, they mix the materials, and eject them into a pile behind the spreader. The tractor then creeps forward as more materials are added into the spreader by a second machine. This machine can be a front-end loader or another tractor with a bucket, it's up to you. We've used both depending on the materials.

As the tractor continues to creep forward, you'll notice a windrow slowly forming behind the spreader. Continue to process your materials until your windrow is complete.

A typical windrow can range in size from 3-12 feet high by 9-20 feet wide at the base.

Below is a video of us building a compost pile at John Leenders' composting facility. Please note that we are not using the mixing method described above. We'll be posting our interview with John within the next month or two.


Build A Compost Pile - Step 3

Turning Your Pile

As with the steps above, there are many different ways to turn your compost pile.

If you have a loader on site, or a tractor with a bucket, you can use that to turn your pile. Heck, if space permits, you can repeat step two above.

One of the easiest ways to aerate and re-mix your windrow is to use a compost turner. There are many models available for large-scale composting, however, we've chosen to discuss the tow-behind, PTO-powered rotary drum with flails turner (boy, that's a mouth-full, isn't it?).

As you can see in the video below, this style of compost turner can be pulled behind a utility vehicle (or tractor). As the turner is pulled over the windrow, the PTO-driven flails aerate and mix the pile.


Not quite sure when to turn your pile?

Make sure you're using a compost thermometer as a turning gauge. However, before you turn your pile, make sure you know what's going on inside it. To determine that, you must answer the question, "how does composting work?"

As the materials in your piles break down, your windrows are going to get progressively smaller in size. After the first several weeks of turning, it may be a good idea to combine two windrows into one. This will free up space for your next windrow and increase the efficiency of your operations.

Depending on your original materials and windrow management, your compost could be ready in as little as four to six months (assuming a two month curing period).

There you have it, you now know the basics of how to build a compost pile like a professional. If you enjoyed this article, please click the "Like" button at the top of the page.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy our interview with Tim from Humble Acres Organics.