Organic gardeners and green-friendly homeowners often sing the praises of nutrient-rich compost. Although most composting methods generally require two to six months to produce mature compost, careful preparation and daily maintenance can provide you with finished compost in as little as 14 to 21 days, according to Dr. Robert D. Raabe, professor of plant pathology at the University of California-Berkeley. Making 14-day compost is not for the faint of heart; expect to invest a lot of time and effort into maintaining your compost, but know that your efforts will be rewarded with fertile finished compost ready to use long before your more laid-back gardening friends even think of aerating--let alone using--their compost.
Collect your compost waste. Gather equal amounts of carbon-dense materials (dry, generally brown waste, such as dead leaves, cardboard, newspaper and straw) and nitrogen-dense materials (wet, generally green waste, such as fresh-cut yard waste, cow manure, vegetable scraps and discarded fruit). Arrange the dry, brown materials in one heap by your compost bin; place the moist, green materials in a second heap by your bin.
Shred, tear, cut and chop large or thick pieces of waste into sections that measure no more than about 1 1/2 inch wide. Drive over leaves with a push mower to shred them into smaller pieces to make them easier for the composting microbes to process.
Build a 3-by-3-foot heap of compost waste, using alternating 2- to 4-inch layers of carbon and nitrogen materials. Start with a layer of carbon waste, dampening it with enough water to make it the consistency of a wrung-out sponge before adding an equally sized layer of nitrogen materials. Repeat the layers of damp carbon and nitrogen waste until your compost heap is 3 to 4 feet tall.
Turn your compost heap with a manure fork or garden rake once daily to encourage heat in your pile, which indicates rapid decomposition rates. Shift the waste from the edges of the heap to the center after moving the materials in the center of the heap to the edges of the pile. Squeeze a handful of the compost waste each time you turn the pile to check the moisture level, adding extra water if necessary to keep the compost as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Look for signs of finished compost approximately two weeks after building your heap, including a mild, earthy odor, loose texture and even, brown color. Allow your compost heap to cool down completely before using the mature compost on your garden or potted plants.