Composting is a method of speeding up the decomposition of yard and kitchen waste for the purpose of creating a fine humus, which is then used as a soil amendment to improve poor soil. Compost adds organic matter to soil, improving its structure. A good compost provides nitrogen to the soil in small amounts, making happier, healthier plants. Starting a compost pile requires the right location, layering practice and regular care to prevent a smelly or slow composting pile.
Find a location free of direct sunlight and harsh winds, as both dry out the pile and prevent proper decomposition, says the University of Missouri. Do not place the pile near trees, as they may grow up into the pile. Consider placing the compost pile close to a source of water, as it will need moisture during the summer.
Place a layer of 3 to 4 inches of chopped brush on the ground to increase aeration to the pile, says Ohio State University. Start the pile so that it is 5 feet by 5 feet at a minimum, with enough material for a 3-foot height.
Make a layer of organic material such as vegetable waste, grass clippings, hay, straw and leaves. Chop the materials lightly to increase the rate of composition. Keep the materials a bit bulky in the lower levels to prevent compaction. Layer organic material 6 to 8 inches thick.
Add a 1-inch layer of soil, then a 2- to 3-inch layer of animal manure or fertilizer to the pile. Soil serves as an inoculate, says Ohio State University, while the fertilizer feeds microorganisms that help decompose the pile.
Repeat the layers until you reach the correct height, then moisten the pile with a hose. Allow the pile to sit for two to three weeks so that it reaches the correct decomposition temperature of 110 to 160 degrees F, says the University of Illinois. The pile will sag in the middle at this time.
Add water when the pile begins to dry, and turn the pile after three to four weeks to aid air circulation and decomposition. Allow the compost to age four to six months before use in the soil.