Gardeners and green living enthusiasts interested in finding a natural way to fertilize their vegetables and flower gardens need to look no further than their own garbage cans for a source of nutrient-rich humus. Converting carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich organic waste into dark brown, crumbly compost soil provides you with an organic soil additive that can increase your plants' productivity and reduce your soil's erosion level. A compost heap gives you an inexpensive, low-maintenance way to process finished compost, which you can typically do in as little as six months with regular pile mixing, according to Barbara Pleasant, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide."
Decide on a composting location that is positioned conveniently for you to put your organic scraps on your compost heap on a regular basis. Make sure your compost location has good drainage and gets at least three hours of sun each day.
Mark off a 3-foot-square area of soil for your composting heap. Use a shovel to peel back any soil covering the compost location in order to allow the bacteria in the ground to have better access to your organic food and yard waste.
Collect organic waste for your compost pile. Look for nitrogen-rich waste, such as fresh yard clippings, cow or horse manure, coffee grounds, fruit scraps and vegetable peels. Make sure ½ to ¾ of your organic waste consists of carbon-rich materials, such as dead leaves, old straw, sawdust, newspaper and cardboard. Shred large pieces of organic waste into sections that are less than 2 inches in diameter to decrease composting time.
Scoop a 6- to 7-inch layer of high-carbon organic waste materials across the exposed topsoil on your composting location. Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of high-nitrogen ingredients across the carbon layer, and mist it with a light spray of water from your garden hose. Sprinkle six to eight handfuls of plain topsoil across the top of the layers. Repeat the layering of carbon and nitrogen materials until your compost pile is at least 3 feet tall.
Push the materials in the top center of the compost heap down several inches to create a slight bowl shape, which allows rain water to flow into the center of your compost heap and provide needed moisture. Allow your compost heap to sit for four to five weeks to heat up, a sign that the bacteria are beginning their decomposing work.
Mix the compost materials together with a manure fork to provide added oxygen for the bacteria. Check the moisture level of your compost once weekly; ideally, it should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Stir the compost ingredients together at least once each month with a manure fork.