Although the concept of using decomposed organic material to improve a garden dates back to prehistory, composting as we know it didn't begin until the early 20th century. During this time, British agronomist Sir Albert Howard noticed that compost decomposed faster and increased in quality when it was composed of certain ratios of manure and plant material. Howard also noticed that certain practices, such as turning compost, helped it to decompose faster. Howard's methods of composting are known as the Indore method.
Separate compost materials into nitrogen-rich green material such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, peat moss and clover and carbon-rich brown organic material, which includes dead leaves, sawdust and straw.
Chop each ingredient into fragments, 1 inch long. This gives the microbes that break down compost more surface area to work with. You can mow straw and grass clippings into shorter pieces or cut down kitchen scraps with kitchen shears or a food processor.
Pile the compost materials into alternating layers of green and brown compost to form a pile. The nitrogen-rich layers should be about twice as thick as the carbon-filled layers. The compost pile should be at least 3 cubic feet so that the center of the pile heats up effectively and no more than 5 cubic feet, so that the heap is easy to manage.
Activate the compost to set the microbes to work by watering the compost so that the entire pile is as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
Check the compost daily with an oven thermometer that has a probe to ensure that the internal temperature of the compost remains between 120 and 160 degrees F. Microbes are most active in this temperature range. If the center of the pile drops below 120 degrees F, stir the pile to mix the compost to reheat the pile reactivate the microbes.
Sift through your pile when the material is mostly reduced to loam. Pull out any large chunks of undigested compost and place them in a new compost heap. These pieces will have active microbes in them. The remaining loam is finished compost.