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Choosing a Location for Your Compost Pile

1 of 7 in Series: The Essentials of Composting

You've decided to get into the composting game. Way to go! First, you need to figure out a good location in your landscape to situate your composting efforts. To be a good neighbor, take into account your neighbors' views or potential concerns. Will your bins piled high with straw and fresh manure be visible from your neighbors' patio, where they sit and watch birds? Also, check homeowner association or other municipal regulations that may limit your options.

The ideal location for composting is within easy reach of a hose. You'll apply water to each pile as you build, uniformly moistening all the organic matter. And if you decide to regularly turn and maintain your compost, you'll be remoistening piles again and again.

If you have a large property and compost on the outskirts, rather than dragging a hose, consider extending your underground water line and installing a hose bib close to the action.

How much space you need depends on the ultimate scope of your composting operation and what style of bins, if any, you decide to use. Don't forget to allow yourself elbow room to comfortably swing a pitchfork loaded with organic matter and shovel your finished compost into a bucket, wheelbarrow, or cart for transport elsewhere in the landscape.

At its most basic, a freestanding pile of organic matter (without a bin enclosing it) should be <i>
At its most basic, a freestanding pile of organic matter (without a bin enclosing it) should be at least 3 feet long x 3 feet wide x 3 feet tall — up to 5 x 5 x 5 feet.

However, don't let lack of space deter you from composting. Even the smallest courtyard garden or balcony has a corner for a compact compost bin design or a worm bin, and good-looking bin designs are available for those who have nowhere to hide their composting efforts.

Because finished compost is heavy, setting up close to where the finished compost will be used makes sense. If you plan to add garden beds or planting areas in the future, compost right on top of those spots. Your composting effort will somewhat soften the top layer of soil beneath it, making it easier to dig, and nutrients leached from the compost pile will give a boost to new plants. Compost directly on the ground (not on concrete or other hardscape surfaces) to promote good contact with soil microorganisms, aeration, and drainage.

Regardless of where you live, site your compost area in the shade if at all possible. Shade keeps the organic matter from drying out rapidly. (It also keeps you from dehydrating in the sun when the time comes to toss a ton of organic matter.)

Wet compost turns stinky fast and is heavy to turn. If you live in a rainy climate, avoid places beneath eaves where downpours leach nutrients and create a soggy mess. Also avoid areas with poor drainage where rainwater puddles, forcing you to slog through mud.

If you share property with mosquitoes or those equally nasty biting horseflies, tending a compost area at the far edge of a property seems unbearable. If you want to keep your compost cooking through the year while avoiding biters, consider an enclosed bin near the back door for kitchen scraps, so you can dash in and out quickly.

Cold and snowy winters don't have to stop you from adding ingredients to your pile. If you want to add kitchen scraps or other materials through the winter, situate the compost area where you can reach it easily!

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