Composting, a means for turning organic waste into a rich earthy soil amendment, is an environmentally friendly and economical way to recycle leaves and other yard waste. Compost not only enriches the soil for improved plant growth, it also makes clay soil easier to work and improves the water-holding capacity of sandy soil. Four main components--organic matter, moisture, oxygen and bacteria--are required for successful composting.
Begin with a 6- to 8-inch layer of organic material such as yard waste. Chop or shred coarse material if possible. If you use grass clippings, dry them first or mix them with coarser material. Moisten this organic layer with a sprinkling of water. Keep in mind that you want the entire pile to be about as wet as a wrung sponge.
Add 1 to 2 inches of cow, horse, or chicken manure. If manure is unavailable, use a high-nitrogen fertilizer at a rate of 1 cup per 25 square feet of surface area.
Place a layer of soil or sod about 1 inch thick on top of the manure.
Continue layering organic material, water, manure and soil in this manner until you have 3 to 5 feet of these layers.
Move the contents of the bin from one unit to another after two weeks. Use a pitch fork and try to get materials that were previously near the outside of the pile close to the center, where the temperature is highest and decomposition occurs at the fastest rate.
Turn the contents of the bin again in about two weeks. You may turn the compost every few weeks thereafter in order to mix and aerate the contents for quicker composting.
Check moisture when turning the pile by squeezing a handful of the compost. If you can barely squeeze out a drop of water, then the moisture is just right. Add water as needed to maintain this level of moisture.
After about two months, the compost should be a rich dark brown product with an earthy smell. It is then ready to use as a soil amendment, mulch or potting medium.