Composting breaks down plant material and food waste into a rich, fertile soil amendment and reduces the amount of trash that ends up curbside. Finished compost is black and has no off-odor. Depending on your method and the conditions in your yard, compost can take three weeks to two years to decompose. In addition to a good mixture of green and brown plant material, compost needs air and water to break down.
Lay a 2- to 3-inch layer of small sticks and dry leaves on the bottom of your compost pile. These break down slowly and get the compost off the ground, allowing air to get in and speeding up the composting process.
Add 3 to 4 inches of green plant material. Nitrogen-rich grass clippings and food waste break down quickly, but tend to compact and become a slimy mass without the addition of slow-composting brown materials.
Add 6 to 8 inches of brown materials. Continue building your compost pile until it is 5 feet tall, using a ratio of 1/3 green matter to 2/3 brown matter. Poke holes in the compost pile with your pitchfork to allow air in.
Water the compost pile with a hose until the compost is as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Check your compost pile every few days and moisten as needed. Compost breaks down faster when it is constantly moist. Gardeners in dry, western climates need to pay especially close attention to the moisture level of compost piles.
Add one or two shovelfuls of garden soil to the top of your compost pile, along with a shovelful of manure. These additives contain bacteria and fungi that begin the composting process.
Turn your compost every few days with a pitchfork to add oxygen and hasten decomposition. Continue adding plant material in the ratios mentioned previously.