I enjoy converting my kitchen and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost for my garden. I’ve been able to produce all that I need without paying for tumblers or special equipment or following any very scientific regimen.
Books say that compost should contain about 2/3 materials high in carbon (like hay, straw and leaves) and 1/3 materials high in nitrogen (like fresh grass clippings, weeds, and food scraps). I don’t measure what I add, but I keep layering in different types of material.
If the pile is slow to decompose I know it needs either more water or more nitrogen-rich materials. If it stinks I know it’s either soaked by excessive rain or in need of more carbon-rich material. I always season a new pile with few shovelfuls of finished compost, which is full of organisms that speed up decomposition.
I never use parasite-prone pig or pet manure, rodent-attracting meat scraps, or weed killer-treated, plant-killing lawn clippings. Obviously, good clean compost is what I’m after for food crops.
I make three-sided bins from pallets to contain my compost while it cures. Some people use chicken-wire sides. It helps to have at least two adjacent bins so that you can turn the pile.
Turning the pile--taking everything out of one bin and piling it into the adjacent bin--adds oxy-gen to accelerate decomposition, lets me check how my carbon/nitrogen balance is working out, and discourages rodents from moving into my pile. I turn compost at least every other week; it breaks down faster when I get to it weekly.
Finished compost looks and feels like soft, loose, dark-colored soil. It doesn’t stink. Added to garden soil, it adds nutrients, balances pH, helps soil retain moisture, and attracts earthworms and other beneficials.
The Cornell Waste Management Institute offers a well-organzed, detail-packed introduction to composting for small-scale gardeners, including keeping your compost healthy and safe for using to grow food.