Many expert composters view compost making as a fine art, adding special blends of organic waste with various compost additives to create "black gold" for their vegetable and flower gardens. According to Barbara Pleasant, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," making compost does require specific ingredients (carbon waste, nitrogen waste, water and air), but you don't have to be a composting aficionado to make a batch of quality compost. With just a bit of patience, basic gardening tools and--of course--some good, old-fashioned hard work, you can become the proud owner of your very own compost--without spending a penny. Use these free directions to create a basic compost that works equally well as a soil amendment and as a fertilizer.
Gather your organic waste materials into two equally sized groups: moist, green nitrogen-rich scraps and dry, brown carbon-rich scraps. Look for prime sources of nitrogen in your yard, kitchen and barn, including different materials, such as fresh grass clippings, cow or horse manure, potato peels, mushy bananas and old carrots. Check the same areas for carbon-rich waste, such as straw, dried grass clippings, dead leaves, newspaper, sawdust and cardboard.
Clear any sod or grass turf from your composting location with a shovel. Measure the exposed soil to ensure that it's at least 3-feet-by-3-feet but no more than 5-feet-by-5-feet, the ideal dimensions for a compost pile, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. Choose a composting site that gets at least three hours of sun each day and has well-draining soil to ensure that your compost doesn't get too wet.
Add a 5- to 6-inch layer of high-carbon waste materials to the bare soil at your composting site, shredding large chunks into smaller pieces as you go. Mist enough water over the carbon waste to make it about as damp as a wrung-out sponge to encourage increased microbial activity. Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of high-nitrogen waste over the carbon materials, topped by several handfuls of plain dirt as an organic compost activator. Repeat alternating layers of carbon materials, nitrogen waste and the plain dirt until your heap measures 3 to 5 feet in height.
Ignore your compost heap completely for two to three weeks as the microbes begin decomposing the waste. Rotate the waste from the center of the pile to the edges and toss the materials on the edges to the center of your heap after three weeks have passed. Use a manure fork or garden rake to scoop the waste materials easily.
Touch the compost waste to see if it's still about as wet as a wrung-out sponge; if you can't tell for sure, being able to squeeze one to two drops of moisture out of a handful of the waste indicates that it's at the correct moisture level, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. Make it a habit to turn the composting waste and check the moisture level at least once every five weeks, more frequently if you want your "black gold" ready for use in less than six months.