Composting produces nutrient-rich organic material that, when combined with soil, makes an ideal planting medium. The process is the same as what happens in nature to make top soil: Trees drop leaves, plants die and those materials decompose over time through the aid of warmth and moisture. When gardeners compost at their homes, they are speeding up this natural process by providing it with ideal circumstances of perfect temperatures, moisture and rotation.
Choose a composting bin. These can be bought from a garden center or built by you using a variety of materials in a variety of styles. The most important things that a composting bin provides is an area to hold the materials, access to water and warmth and some way to turn the materials inside. Choose one that suits the size and convenience that you desire.
Decide whether you need compost made from mostly green materials or from mostly brown. Green materials will provide you with compost that is high in nitrogen, and brown will provide compost that is higher in carbon. It is important to know that you can change the composition of your compost somewhat, but all compost needs a combination of browns and greens to decompose properly.
Shred any larger materials, such as leaves, stalks or paper. Leaves can be shredded by using a shredder or running a pile of them over with a lawnmower a few times. Using a paper shredder is a convenient way to recycle newspapers by adding them to a compost pile. It is recommended that the colored, varnished pages of the advertising section and of magazines not be used in compost, especially if your compost is going to be used for vegetable gardening.
Add shredded materials to the compost bin. Put the materials in layers. Start with straw or garden materials, then add dry leaves or shredded paper, then add kitchen scraps, then more paper or dry materials, then manure, then more shredded paper, then some finished compost, if you have it, or some garden soil. This will make the mixing process easier and ensure that brown materials have some contact with green materials and vice versa. Spray the materials with water in between layers to moisten slightly.
Mix the compost as thoroughly as possible using a pitchfork or shovel. The more you mix it, the better.
Spray the composting materials with water. If the bin has adequate drainage, feel free to saturate the compost completely soaking all of the materials.
Mix the compost again to evenly distribute the moisture. The amount of time it will take to break down your materials will depend on the type of composter, the materials being composted and how much they were already broken down to start with and the environment within the composter (how much air and warmth the contents gets). It can take several weeks to several months to break down, but during that time, continue to mix or turn the compost, and add water every few days to one week, depending on composter. The compost should remain moist but not saturated.