Evolution of an Open Compost Heap

The humans share the transition and remodel of the open compost pile…

There are 2 compost piles at Urban Farm OC. One is a closed pile, where access is denied for the chickens. The other is an open pile, where the chickens can dig and work as much as possible.


In late 2013, when the humans moved in, the compost area was just a planter area full of hard, impenetrable clay soil where nothing would grow. They began building veggie beds and other growing areas, but never got around to working this weird little spot.

After adopting 4 chickens, and another 6 shortly thereafter, they decided to convert the area into an open compost heap. Having an open compost area allows the flock to eat, scratch and dig for scraps, bugs and worms. The breakdown of compostable matter (kitchen scraps, leaves, garden debris, paper towels, cardboard, chicken poop, etc.) thrown into the heap makes a very nutrient-rich compost, aka gardeners’ black gold, that can be an excellent fertilizer for the garden.

The humans first started by using pallets they obtained for free to use as walls and barriers. But anyone living with chickens knows that these little birds are very, very fierce diggers! Things were getting tossed all over the place through the spaces in the wood slats. This especially became more problematic as new members joined the flock.


In the next evolution of the compost pile, the humans enlarged the area, though they ran out of material to make the lip higher. The lip is basically a shortened wall that helps contain the debris and makes it easy for the humans to get in there to turn the compost and remove any finished compost. Actually, the humans don’t have to turn the compost as often because the chickens do a great job of turning, but they’re too good. As you can see in the photo below, lots of scraps still got kicked out in the enthusiastic digging and turning.

open compost file

In the latest evolutionary stage of the open compost heap, Lady Human finally purchased some cinder blocks and stacked them so that the lip is high enough to hold in the compostable matter, but still low enough to safely step over to turn and harvest. Well, “safe” is relative…Lady Human is known to be a little klutzy at times. Perhaps she should install a step-up ledge or stair in front of the lip.

open compost file

open compost file


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