Making your own compost heap allows you to turn organic waste from your yard and kitchen into a rich soil addition. You can compost leaves, grass clippings, vegetable trimmings and even coffee grounds. A compost heap requires very little work to build, and it is easy to maintain. A basic heap doesn't need a bin or tumbler to start. Build it directly on the ground. This provides easy access for turning and using the finished compost, and it is simple to relocate with the help of a shovel or pitchfork if necessary.
Choose a level area of your yard that isn't prone to standing water after rainstorms. Lay down enough large twigs or branches on top of the area to cover a 5-by-3-foot or slightly larger area. Make the twig layer 3 inches thick. This is your base and allows oxygen to reach the bottom of the pile.
Make an 8- to 10-inch-thick layer of dead leaves, sawdust or straw on top of the twig layer. Include any kitchen waste in this layer. This is the carbon layer of the compost pile.
Place 2 to 3 inches of grass clippings or other green plant matter on top of the carbon layer to add nitrogen to the pile. Use 3 inches of fresh herbivore manure or use 1/3 cup of nitrogen fertilizer if grass clippings aren't available.
Sprinkle one to two shovels of garden soil or a purchased compost starter on top of the pile to add the microorganisms needed to start the composting process. Also start adding additional leaf, grass and soil layers until the pile is 3 feet tall.
Turn the pile at least once a month with a pitchfork, moving the materials on the outside of the pile to the inside. Water as needed to keep the pile moist but not soaking wet.
Use the compost once all organic matter in it has broken down and the compost is a rich, dark brown. Finished compost smells earthy and crumbles in your hand.