Step-by-Step Guide to Lasagna Layering Your Compost

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So you’re ready to compost. You’ve read all the information you can find on the internet. You’ve decided on the best composting system for you or even built your own outdoor compost bin. Now it’s time to learn how to properly layer a compost bin. 

At this point, you probably know the basics of composting. You likely understand that the composting process transforms organic materials into nutrient-rich soil, often referred to as “black gold.” One of the keys to successfully composting organic matter is properly layering your compost pile. 

If all of that sounds like Greek to you, then pause right here and go to my post on Compost for Beginners.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process of layering a compost pile using a variety of organic materials to create the perfect environment for decomposition. I’ll also give you some tips and tricks for how to layer different types of compost systems. Layering is slightly different between a compost heap and a tumbler. I’ll help you figure out how to do it best for your own compost bin. 

Table of Contents
    A picture of a compost pile with text overlay that says How to layer your compost pile

    Lasagna Layering: The Most Popular Way to Layer a Compost Pile

    When it comes to layering a compost pile or a stand alone compost bin, lasagna layering is pretty much the gold standard. Here’s how you do it:

    1. At the bottom of the bin or pile, add a layer of sticks. This layer should be about 4-6” deep. 

    2. Next, add a layer of brown waste, also known as the carbon-rich layer. Dead leaves is a great option for this first brown layer. If you live somewhere without access to dead leaves, you can use cardboard cut up into small pieces, or rip paper bags into shreds. 

    3. Start adding your nitrogen-rich materials/ green waste. All food waste is considered green waste. You can also add green yard waste to this layer. 

    4. Repeat the brown layer.

    5. Continue with another layer of green material. 

    6. Always add a layer of brown waste to the top after adding your green waste. 

    7. Once you have enough material in your bin, let it break down and compost. You should be able to start collecting finished compost from the bottom after a year (depending on your climate and the time of year, it could be finished much quicker- warm weather allows for faster decomposition).

    A graphic of how to layer compost

    What to do when my compost bin is full?

    One of the benefits of lasagna layering is that you don’t have to turn or mix your compost. You can truly start using the finished compost at the bottom as soon as it is ready. Some bins like this one are easy to move. You can simply lift it and move it to a new location, then take the top few layers that aren’t decompose yet and start all over again. 

    If you do this, make sure to add a new layer of sticks. 

    You can opt for several of these cedar compost bins instead. These look nice in a backyard and typically hold up well.

    How to harvest from a compost pile

    If you are lasagna layering a free standing compost pile, all you need to do is shovel off the top layer and move it to a new spot to start harvesting your finished compost. 

    Personally, this is my favorite way to compost because it involves no special tools, just enough space to keep a pile. 

    You’ll want to stick with traditional composting rules when using a stand alone compost pile. Your kitchen waste should only include vegetable peels and fruit scraps. While you can technically compost animal products and dairy, you should avoid it in a stand alone pile so you don’t attract unwanted animals. You might also end up with unpleasant odors!

    RELATED POST: Learn more about composting dairy here!

    How to layer a compost tumbler

    You’ll want to follow the same rule of always adding a layer of brown waste after adding your food waste. 

    I simply keep a bin of leaves near my tumblers and add a handful after my kitchen waste. Then I turn my tumbler and let it be until the next time I add green waste. 

    RELATED POST: Best Compost Tumblers

    Why do you always add a layer of brown waste to the top of the compost pile?

    The number one reason to add a layer of brown waste (a.k.a. the carbon rich layer) is to cover up any food scraps that would attract animals. 

    Even if you are only adding garden waste to your compost pile, it’s a good idea to cover that yard waste with a layer of brown waste. This is because having the right ratio of nitrogen-rich materials to carbon-rich materials helps to keep your compost bin in balance. 

    Do you need to layer a worm bin? 

    Yes! Layering isn’t just for compost piles. If you are worm composting you will want to do a little bit of layering for your worm babies too. 

    ​This is a little simpler because many worm bins come with trays for layering. 

    You actually set up a worm bin by creating a layer of bedding for the worms. You can learn more about how to get started with a worm bin here. 

    The same rules apply with the brown materials here as they do with other types of composting. Adding a thin layer of brown material after adding your food waste will not only keep your worm bin balanced, but it will offer a little bit of protection for your worms too. 

    You can also dig a little hole and add your food waste to the center of the bin to make it more accessible to your red wigglers. 

    Head here to see the top worm compost systems on the market. 

    Understanding the Basics: How to balance nitrogen-rich materials with carbon-rich materials

    It’s essential to understand the key components of a compost pile. If you don’t understand this part of composting then it can be tricky to layer correctly. 

    Composting relies on the breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in the compost pile is crucial for optimal decomposition.

    • Carbon (C)/ Brown layers: Found in materials like dried leaves, straw, and cardboard, carbon provides energy to microorganisms and helps maintain the structure of the compost pile.
    • Nitrogen (N)/ Green layers: Nitrogen-rich materials include kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. Nitrogen fuels microbial activity and accelerates decomposition.

    The ideal C:N ratio for composting is approximately 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. This ratio provides a balanced environment for microbial growth and ensures efficient decomposition.

    Deviation from the optimal ratio can result in slow decomposition (excess carbon) or foul odors (excess nitrogen). Maintaining the proper balance of carbon and nitrogen is essential for successful composting and the production of nutrient-rich soil amendments.

    More Tips for Successful Composting

    Step 1: Choose the Right Location

    Select a suitable location for your compost pile. Ideally, it should be in a well-drained area with good airflow. Avoid placing your compost pile directly on grass or soil to prevent weed seeds from infiltrating the pile.

    Step 2: Gather Your Materials

    Collect a variety of organic materials, including kitchen scraps, yard waste, and plant material. Green materials provide nitrogen, while brown materials provide carbon. Aim for a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of about 30:1 for optimal decomposition.

    Step 3: Start with a Base Layer

    Begin by creating a base layer of coarse materials such as wood chips or dry leaves. This helps to improve airflow and drainage at the bottom of the pile.

    Step 4: Add Green and Brown Layers

    Alternate layers of green and brown materials to create a balanced compost pile. Green materials, such as vegetable scraps and grass clippings, provide nitrogen, while brown materials, such as dead leaves and cardboard, provide carbon.

    Step 5: Moisture and Aeration

    Ensure that your compost pile remains moist, but not waterlogged. Use a water source to moisten each layer as you build the pile. Additionally, periodically turn the pile to promote aeration and speed up the decomposition process.

    Step 6: Incorporate Compost Accelerators

    To speed up the decomposition process, consider adding compost accelerators such as compost activators or high-nitrogen materials like manure or coffee grounds.

    Step 7: Maintain the Pile

    Continue to add new materials to your compost pile as they become available. Monitor the moisture content, temperature, and decomposition process regularly to ensure optimal conditions.

    Step 8: Harvesting Your Compost

    After several weeks to months, depending on the composting method used, your compost pile will transform into rich, crumbly compost. Use a shovel or pitchfork to harvest the finished compost from the bottom of the pile, leaving unfinished materials at the top to continue decomposing.

    A graphic that says a step by step guide to layering compost


    Layering a compost pile is a simple yet effective method for transforming organic waste into nutrient-rich compost. By following these steps and incorporating a variety of organic materials, you can create a healthy compost pile that will enrich your soil and promote plant growth. Experiment with different materials and techniques to find the best solution for your composting needs. Happy composting!

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