Composting occurs naturally when soil microbes break down organic material into nutrient-rich soil. Because it happens naturally, composting requires little preparation and expense. Simply heaping yard wastes and kitchen scraps together will get the job done, though a few inexpensive tools--many already part of most gardeners' tool sheds--will produce compost faster and more efficiently.
Bin or Barrel
Confining your compost inside a bin or barrel isn't essential, and open piles work just as well as expensive commercially available composters. However, for many gardeners, a compost bin helps control some of the common problems they encounter when composting. For example, if you plan on composting kitchen scraps and live in an area where scavengers may be a problem, a covered bin prevents raccoons, crows and neighborhood dogs from scattering your yard with garbage. Compost barrels or tumblers make it easier to turn your compost, so if you want compost fast but don't have the time or strength to turn your compost by hand, a tumbler may be a time- and back-saving purchase. An old trash can or a pen constructed of scrap wood and wire fencing can also serve as inexpensive DIY compost bins.
Turning compost isn't essential--organic materials will break down with or without human help--but turning aerates the pile and lets you see if there are any areas that require particular attention. All you need to turn your compost is a garden fork. If you're using a bin, use the fork to unload the bin onto the ground, then return the materials back to the bin. This process stirs up the ingredients and provides air to the center of the pile. If you have an uncovered pile, use the fork to move the pile to an adjacent location. Barbara Pleasant, author the "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," moves her compost pile progressively closer to her garden each time she turns it, so when the compost is ready to use, it is near at hand. You can also use a garden fork to puncture the pile so air can reach the middle without having to turn the pile. Finally, when your compost is finished, use the garden fork to incorporate the compost into the soil.
Sticks and Stems
Turning compost takes time and a good amount of work, and it's not the only solution for aerating the center of your pile. "Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening" recommends inserting tough stems, such as sunflower stems, throughout the pile to conduct air to the center of the pile, speeding up the decomposition process, if you can't or don't want to worry with turning the pile.
Compost is made to be used and, unfortunately, in many yards, there is no universally convenient place for a compost pile. For example, no matter where you locate the pile, few yards allow the opportunity for the pile to be convenient to the grass clippings and fallen leaves you want to add to it and the garden where it will eventually be used. A wheelbarrow is a useful tool for moving large quantities of materials, such as fall leaves, to the pile and moving finished compost to the garden.