The simplest compost pile is just a pile of organic matter left to decay on its own. But by maintaining the right balance of air, moisture and energy for composting, you can develop a hot compost pile capable of killing weed seeds and disease organisms while producing compost in a shorter period. An untended compost pile may take a year or more to compost, while a tended pile can be composted in two to four months.
Collect at least one cubic yard of organic material to make a compost pile. For an open pile, that would be enough to make a pile at least five feet in diameter at the bottom and three feet high. A two-to-one ratio of dry to wet composting material is ideal, according to Washington State University Extension.
Place a layer of dry material on the bottom of your pile. Add some wet compost material and mix the two with a fork.
Squeeze a handful of the mixed material on the pile. If you can just manage to squeeze out a drop or water, the moisture is just right. If no water is forthcoming, sprinkle the pile with water.
Continue adding a layer of dry material and a layer of wet material, mixing, testing for moisture and adding water as needed. Stop when your pile is three to five feet high.
Turn the completed pile weekly by transferring the entire contents to form another pile right next to where the first one was. Try to move the contents that have been around the edges to or near the middle, where the heat develops and most of the composting action takes place. Add water as needed to maintain appropriate pile dampness.