This is a basic guide about composting. There are several websites that give a more in depth explanation and directions. I am new to composting, so I will be doing a lot of research, but this is what I know so far:
What is compost?
Compost is decomposed plant matter which includes garden waste, kitchen scraps, leaves and grass clipping. It is nature's best mulch and soil amendment. Compost is a soil conditioner rather that a fertilizer; it improves the soil structure, aeration and loosens clay soil and helps sandy soil retain water.
A wide variety of materials can be composted. Leaves, grass clippings, straw, and manure are great for a start.
Kitchen scraps like egg shells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, vegetable and fruit scraps are excellent. Wood ash, saw dust, peanut shells and wood chips can all be turned to compost.
Several types of materials should be avoided because they affect the composting process or the final product. Meat scraps, dog and cat manure, cooking oil or salad dressings, diseased plant material, butter, cheese should not be added to your compost pile.
How do I make compost?
There are many ways to make compost. You can buy a commercial bin or fashion one of your own out of cinder blocks, hay bales, snow fence, chicken wire or pallets. A compost pile should be no smaller than 3 cubic feet but no taller that 6 feet. Too small of a pile will not generate enough heat to decompose and too large of a pile becomes compacted and loses oxygen needed for microbes to grow.
Maintaining your pile is important. Turning the pile over with a pitchfork or shovel provides the oxygen necessary for decomposition. Turn the pile every 3 days to every few weeks. An odor indicates the pile is too damp or doesn't have enough oxygen. Watering this pile may be necessary to keep the pile moist. You can also cover with plastic or carpet scraps to keep the moisture in.
New material can be added, just turn it in and cover with older material.
When is the compost ready to use?
Good question! That depends on the type and size of your pile. It can take from 2 weeks to a year. When your pile doesn't generate anymore heat, it will be the same temperature and the surrounding air. The contents will be a rich dark color and crumbly, resembling potting soil. It will have a fresh earthy smell, never unpleasant or rotten smelling.