All organic materials will naturally turn to compost over time. The practice of actively composting speeds up this process to provide a nutrient rich compost that can be used as a fertilizer in your garden. Composting will also reduce your household waste by keeping items out of the trash and, ultimately, the landfills. A healthy compost pile requires four main ingredients to break down the materials into a fertilizing soil.
Carbon materials make up the bulk of any well balanced compost pile. These items are often referred to as "brown materials," though not all carbon items are actually brown. Examples of carbon materials commonly used in composting include shredded newspaper, cardboard, straw, dry leaves, bark, wood and sawdust. Carbon materials are usually brittle and contain very little moisture. A well balanced compost pile will have 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
Nitrogen materials are often classified as the "green materials" in the composting process. Table scraps, grass clippings, weeds, flowers and tea leaves are all nitrogen materials. Though you can include a variety of fruit and vegetable scraps in your compost pile, you should avoid kitchen scraps that include meat or fish. Manure and coffee grounds are nitrogen rich materials as well, though they are brown in color and may therefore be confused for carbon. Nitrogen materials are usually moist and contain far more water than their carbon counterparts.
Air is a crucial ingredient in the composting process. Though air is always surrounding your compost pile, it won't do any good unless it is allowed to circulate throughout your materials. To keep your pile rapidly composting, you should turn it with a pitchfork about once a week, or any time that it starts to cool down. As you turn the pile, rotate the ingredients so that items that were on the interior of the pile are now on the outside.
A healthy compost pile must be watered on a regular basis in order to maintain the proper balance of ingredients. Water is an important ingredient for the growth of the microscopic bacteria needed to break down your pile into compost. While the moist nitrogen ingredients in your pile will provide some of the water needed, you will have to supplement this from time to time. If the pile is dry at a depth of one foot, then you need to sprinkle it with water until the ingredients are lightly moistened. Provide just enough water to keep the pile from drying up, but do not soak it.