Home composting is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to go green and produce valuable fertilizer for your garden. Composting is taking plant material in the form of kitchen and yard scraps and decomposing it into fertile soil for your garden. It is beneficial to the environment because it keeps plant material out of the landfills and reduces the methane (a greenhouse gas) produced by landfills while producing nontoxic fertilizer.
Compost Containers: You have probably seen the compost tumblers and other bins that are commercially available and usually cost several hundred dollars. The truth is that you don't need one. In fact, you don't need a container at all. All you need is a corner of your yard were you can form a pile and a pitchfork or shovel to stir it up with. If you don't have a yard, or you prefer to have your compost in a container, you can make a cheap container using old garbage cans. These can be stored inside, outside, or in a garage. When composting is done correctly, it will not smell.
What to put on your compost pile: Leaves, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable trimmings and peels, fruits and vegetables that have gone bad, egg shells, dead house plants, dropped leaves or flowers from house plants, coffee grounds, tea bags, saw dust, weeds(without seed heads), fire place ashes, manure, water, leftover coffee and tea, fruit juice that has gone bad, biocompostable paper and plastic goods.
You should avoid using: Anything containing meat or dairy, dead animals, human waste, animal waste (except for manure), yard clippings containing thorns, tree or bush branches (unless you have a chipper that can chip them fine).
What your compost pile needs: I have read in various compost books that a compost pile needs to be a minimum of three feet by three feet and comprised of a 50/50 mixture of green and brown material. The compost books also advise that a compost pile needs to be built all at once and if you don't have enough material to build the pile, then you shouldn't bother. I have found, through my personal experience with home composting, that none of the above is true. You can toss your kitchen and yard waste onto the pile as you accumulate them and they will compost just fine. There are, however, two things that your compost pile will need: oxygen and water. Without these, your compost will either dry out or turn putrid. Either way, it won't break down.
In order to keep your compost pile hydrated, and save water, you should strive to pour liquids on your pile that would otherwise go down the drain. Try using water that has been sitting in the bottom of a water bottle or pitcher to long, leftover tea or coffee, water used to boil vegetables, fruit juice that has gone bad, rainwater, etc. Also, when you run the tap waiting for the water to heat or cool, you can place a pitcher under the tap and capture the water for use on your compost.
To make sure your compost has sufficient oxygen, make sure to thoroughly turn over your pile once a week. If you turn it over more often, you will keep your compost from properly heating. If you turn it over less often, the pile will start producing methane and other undesirable gases.
Compost Heat: If your compost pile is properly decomposing, it will produce heat. Don't be alarmed when you notice this. It is a good thing.
When Compost is Done: Once you have accumulated a sizable compost pile, stop adding new material to allow it to decompose. Start a new pile for the rest of your scraps. Eventually your compost pile will lose heat. That is okay. Your compost is done and ready for use in the garden when it looks like rich, dark garden soil and the original contents are mostly indistinguishable. Below is a photo of one of my compost piles that is almost done.
Insects: Your compost pile will probably attract some insects and possibly rodents. Some insects are beneficial to your pile and should not concern you. If you build a pile on the ground, it will eventually fill with worms. Worms are beneficial because they will accelerate the decomposition and their castings are excellent fertilizer. You may also notice some ants, flies and other insects attracted by the decomposition. If the pile is properly tended, there won't be many of them. There may also be a few mice and other small rodents attracted to your pile. A few mice sampling usually is not a problem. However, if rodents become a problem, you may need to move your pile into a bin.