University of Illinois Extension
Composting in the Home Garden

the composting process
layering compost
what to compost
types of compost bins
troubleshooting
common questions
Composting in the Home Garden

Layering Compost

Layering is the recommended method for starting a compost pile. Layering is similar to making lasagna, as you add thin, uniform layers of materials in a repeated pattern. Once the compost pile is active, you can incorporate new material into the center of the pile or you can mix it in when turning the pile.

Start your compost pile on bare ground, removing the sod or existing vegetation. Contact with the soil will provide bacteria needed for composting. Do not place the pile on concrete or asphalt. You may also place a pallet underneath the pile if poor drainage beneath the pile is a concern.

Layer 1

Add a 6-8 inch layer of organic matter, both brown and green. Do not pack the materials in, as this limits air flow and oxygen needed by bacteria.

Layer 2

Add a starter material, such as animal manures (see the list of acceptable types), fertilizers, or commercial starters. These materials help to heat up the pile by providing nitrogen for the bacteria and other microorganisms.

Select one of the following:

  • 1-2 inch layer of fresh manure from a grain eating animal, OR
  • 1 cup of 10-10-10 or 12-12-12 fertilizer per 25 square feet, OR
  • a commercial starter (follow label directions)

Layer 3

Add a 1-2 inch layer of top soil or finished garden compost. This is done to introduce the microorganisms to the pile. Avoid using soil recently treated with insecticides and also avoid using sterile potting soil.

the composting process | layering compost | what to compost | types of compost bins | troubleshooting | common questions | credits