Although gardeners can purchase bagged compost from garden stores and lawn centers, they often find the process of making their own compost to be more rewarding and a lot less expensive. Just as important, the quality of commercial, bagged compost varies drastically from bag to bag, depending upon what materials make up the compost, according to Patricia Lanza, author of "Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces." Converting household and yard waste into a nutrient-dense soil amendment also allows you to decrease the amount of trash you put in your garbage can. One of the easiest and simplest ways to make your own compost is pile composting, which generally produces mature compost within about six to 12 months.
Gather organic waste. Look for equal amounts of nitrogen-rich waste materials (moist, green organic scraps, such as cow manure, fresh grass clippings, fruit peelings and vegetable waste) and carbon-rich waste materials (dry, brown organic scraps, such as straw, sawdust, dead leaves, old sticks and wood chips).
Sort through your organic waste scraps, tearing large pieces into small chunks that measure no more than about two inches in diameter. Shred newspaper and cardboard into long, thin strips. Chop large pieces of fruit or vegetable waste with a hand trowel.
Layer your organic waste on the bare ground, alternating three- to four-inch layers of carbon-rich waste with two- to three-inch layers of nitrogen-rich waste. Locate the pile on a well-draining, 3-foot-by-3-foot-square area of soil. Start and end your heap with layers of carbon materials, especially if you use food scraps in your compost heap; this practice minimizes odor and pest problems by covering up any exposed food scraps.
Dampen your compost waste as you add each new layer of materials. Mist it with a garden hose or pour water from a watering can. Add enough extra moisture to make the entire heap of compost waste about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
Leave your compost heap alone for at least one to two weeks to allow the microbes to begin decomposing the waste. Mix the compost heap with a garden rake or manure fork as often as once every day (to produce compost in two months or less) or as little as once every five weeks (to produce compost in approximately four to six months), depending upon how quickly you want finished compost. Squeeze a handful of the waste each time you turn the pile; according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, you should be able to squeeze out only one to two drops of moisture.