Starting a Compost Pile

Q. I want to recycle my fallen leaves into a compost heap. Please give me some advice on starting one this autumn.

A. Nine cubic feet, in a neat pile or container, is a good, manageable size for a backyard compost heap. Begin the layering process with a few inches of twigs, which allows for air circulation under the pile. Then add 5 to 10 inches of leaves, grass and shredded garden debris; 1 to 2 inches of manure or synthetic fertilizer; and finally, 1 to 2 inches of soil. Repeat the layers until the pile is 3 feet high. Apply water to keep the pile evenly moist, but never soggy. Frequency of turning the pile depends on the thickness of the layers and the correct balance of ingredients; thin layers decompose faster than thick layers. Piles that are decomposing more slowly can be turned less often; piles that are heating up quickly should be turned every three or four days. For complete details, order the Plant Facts publication Compost.