According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, over half of the waste Americans sent to landfills in 2008 consisted of yard waste, paper products and food scraps, all materials that you could easily compost. Composting your organic waste produces a rich soil amendment and reduces the amount of trash you send to landfills. But make sure you use a composting method that fits your lifestyle.
Heap composting is just that--a heap of organic waste. Lacking a framework, pile composting produces more mess than other types of composting, but it works well if you don't want to invest a lot of time into compost maintenance.
According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, your compost heap must be between 3 and 5 cubic feet. Create your pile by alternating layers of high-carbon waste (such as dead leaves and shredded newspaper) with high-nitrogen waste (such as cow manure and fresh grass clippings). Expect finished compost in six months to three years, depending upon the materials in your pile.
Unlike heap composting, bin composting requires a supporting framework around your organic waste. In addition to portable plastic bins, possible bin materials include snow fence, chicken wire, wooden pallets and concrete blocks.
For the quickest composting action, keep your bin dimensions between 3 and 5 cubic feet. Leave the top of your bin open or cover it with a plastic sheet to discourage pests. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, holding units typically produce finished compost in six months to two years without regular maintenance.
In you're interested in producing compost quickly, you may want to try tumbler composting, which can produce finished compost in as little as two months or less, according to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension. Usually cylindrical in shape, compost tumblers typically mount on a raised framework. You rotate the tumblers by turning a handle.
According to Barbara Pleasant, co-author of "The Complete Compost Gardening Guide," you can construct a simpler compost tumbler from a cylindrical plastic trash can. Punch holes in the sides and bottom for aeration and drainage. Rotate your trash can compost tumbler by turning it on its side and pushing it around your yard every one to two weeks.
Many vegetable gardeners opt for sheet composting, a simple composting method that doesn't require you to move the finished compost. You'll need to spread several layers of alternating carbon- and nitrogen-rich waste materials across your garden space at least six months before planting time for best results. Leave the waste decomposing until right before planting time. Till the waste into the top 4 to 5 inches of your garden soil and plant your seeds in the nutrient-rich earth.
Apartment dwellers and composters with a lot of kitchen scraps may want to investigate worm composting. Keep red worms in a bin full of moist, shredded newspaper, feeding them mild food scraps, such as fruit and vegetable waste, once or twice weekly. Cover the food scraps with several inches of the bedding material to minimize odor problems. According to Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture, your worms will have compost ready for harvesting in about ten weeks.