Making compost can be a simple task if you have everything in place. Considering the type of material you have to use, the set up, and the size of your compost container will help you start a good compost operation. Proper maintenance will ensure continued success.
Use organic waste from both inside and outside the house. The University of California Extension recommends a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of 30:1; the University of Illinois translates this ratio as using one part green material for every one part brown material. Green material includes kitchen scraps, grass clippings, landscape waste, dead flowers and plant prunings. Brown material includes dried leaves, wood (twigs, sawdust, fireplace ashes) and manure from herbivores (cows, chickens, goats, horses).
Throw all of the kitchen scraps into a plastic container each day for quick disposal. Throw all of your garden waste onto the lawn before mowing, and use a mulching mower with a bagging attachment to grind it up and bag it. Dump both the container and the bag contents into the compost bin or pile.
Set up the compost bin as an enclosed unit; this keeps unwanted things out and helps heat up the material. A 55-gallon drum with a lid works well as a composter. A guide from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is to set the base with 4 inches of leaves, with 2 inches of grass clippings on top of it; then repeat the layers to a height of 4 feet. After the base is established, adding redworms will speed up the process as they eat the organic material.
Paint the outside of the compost bin black to attract the sun's heat. Set the bin up on cinder blocks so it is off the ground.
Size of the compost bin is important. The recommended range of size from the University of Illinois is between a 3-by-3-by-3-foot bin and a 5-by-5-by-5-foot bin. This size range allows for the core temperature in the compost to reach an optimum range of 140 through 160 degrees.
Daily addition of material is required; this is especially true if you use worms in the compost, because a half pound of worms eats one pound of material daily.
Keeping a ratio of three times the amount of dry material to the amount of wet material is also a good way to keep the airflow in the bin at sufficient levels.
Turn the compost every three days with a pitchfork; put the tines of the pitchfork deep into the compost when turning it. Take the temperature of the compost core with a meat thermometer before you turn the compost. If the compost is too cool the process will slow down; use manure or soil to heat up the compost.
Rats and raccoons are the biggest pest problems for a compost bin. These pests love invading compost piles for food. Keep these pests out by putting a ring of heavy-gauge wire mesh around the inside wall of the bin from top to bottom; put another ring of the same material around the opening between the base of the bin and the ground. This keeps the pests from climbing up and chewing through the bin.