Compost heaps allow you to reap the benefits of composting without having to invest a lot of time and energy into maintenance. Whether you've got a particularly busy social life or you simply just don't like the idea of spending hours aerating your compost, compost heaps provide a convenient, inexpensive composting alternative to bins and tumblers. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, compost piles may take several years to produce finished compost, depending upon the types of materials you put in your pile. The secret to making a successful compost heap lies in building a pile large enough to heat up adequately but small enough to allow oxygen to penetrate into the entire heap.
Select a prime composting location for your compost heap. Look for an area that is level, drains well, and gets at least three hours of sun each day. Minimize work hauling finished compost around by locating your compost site near your garden or flowerbeds. Opt for a secluded or hidden location if you have close neighbors that might get offended by having to look at your compost heap day after day.
Remove a 3 foot by 3 foot area of sod covering your chosen composting location to allow the millions of bacteria in the soil to have immediate access to your organic waste.
Collect your organic waste for the compost heap. Opt for 25 to 50 percent of your waste to be high in nitrogen, choosing prime materials, such as cow manure, green yard clippings, fruit peels and vegetable scraps, to provide adequate protein for the decomposing bacteria at work in your compost heap. Gather different carbon-rich materials for the remainder of your compost ingredients, including dead leaves, shredded newspaper or cardboard, straw and old hay. Include a variety of organic matter to produce a richer finished compost.
Spread a 5- to 7-inch layer of shredded carbon-rich organic waste across the exposed topsoil. Cover the carbon materials with a 2- to 3-inch layer of nitrogen-rich waste. Sprinkle five to seven handfuls of plain topsoil on top of the nitrogen waste to introduce additional decomposing bacteria to your compost heap. Water the compost layers with a light misting from your garden hose. Add additional alternating layers of carbon-rich and nitrogen-rich materials until the height of your compost heap matches its width and length. Push down the top center of your compost heap with a manure fork to create a small depression that helps provide moisture for your compost by channeling rainwater into the middle of the heap.
Check your compost heap once weekly to ensure it remains adequately moist. Squeezing a handful of compost should expel only one to two drops of moisture, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension.