Good compost is all about the recipe. Having the right mixture of brown and green material results in a more nutrient-rich material and provides the right ingredients for speedy decomposition. By layering the ingredients, you can have a usable compost in just over a month.
Layer the bottom of your compost bin with a mat of twigs. Twigs break down slower than other ingredients, but they play an important role. The twigs will allow air to get under the denser material and give water a place to escape. For an added bonus, raise your bin off the ground with cinderblocks and place a bucket or pot underneath to collect the runoff. Known as "compost tea," the runoff from your compost bin is full of nutrients and can be used to fertilize plants in the garden and containers.
Brown materials such as leaves and grass clippings, straw and shredded newsprint break down slowly and release carbon. Collect these ingredients in the fall and mix into your compost. The finer the material is shredded, the quicker it will break down.
Greens include vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and tea leaves, plant matter and animal manure from herbivores like chickens, rabbits, cows and horses. Greens add nitrogen to the mix and break down quickly. Green material also attracts worms, insects and microorganisms that help decompose the whole pile. Greens should be layered with browns to promote proper decomposition. Again, smaller pieces will break down quicker.
Other Compost-Safe Waste
Other ingredients for your compost include crushed, clean eggshells; small amounts of disease-free, non-treated wood shavings; small amounts of burnt wood ash; and dryer lint. These items don't provide lots nutrients, but they help aerate the final mixture. Never add meat or meat by-products, dairy products or pet waste to your compost. These attract pests like raccoons, leave a rancid smell and may harbor parasites.
Making Your Compost
Water and heat are your final key components. Keep your pile moist but not soaked. Protect it from the elements with a lid or tarp to keep nutrients from running off in heavy rainfalls. The heat generated by the release of carbon and nitrogen is what causes the decomposition. Turn your pile or bin to the center with a garden fork to allow for even decomposition and to keep the temperature high.