Composting basics:- A compost pile is essentially a living organism and like all living organisms, it needs three things: air, water, food. If you provide all those, it will compost, and everything else details.
Air means air needs to circulate through the pile. So you don’t want it in a tightly enclosed bin. Wire bins or pallets are great. Plastic is OK as long as it has enough air holes. You don’t want to let your pile pack down. Having a few sticks in it helps, or run pipe with holes down into it, or just punch some holes with a long stick. Mixing/ turning it occasionally helps keep it aerated and loosened up.
Composting basics Just For gardening lovers
Composting is basically done by living organisms, macro, and microorganisms that break down the compostables into usable nutrients. All living organisms need water. So your pile needs to stay damp (“like a wrung-out sponge”). It does not want to be wet/soggy/ waterlogged, because that tends to exclude air. When it is dry enough to water my garden, I water my compost pile.
Food means a diversity of nutrients. What you get out of the compost pile (finished compost) all comes from what you put into it. So if you want your finished composed to be a well-balanced soil amendment that provides all the different nutrients your plants need, including trace/micronutrients, minerals, etc., you have to provide them by putting a wide range of different stuff in your pile. Basically it has to include “greens” (soft/moist, nitrogen-rich) and “browns” (hard/dry, carbon-rich), which is where the greens/browns sticky comes in. But it should also include lots of different nutrients. So in general no, more than 10% of your pile should be any one ingredient. The different ingredients need to mingle. Layering works and again mixing helps.
To work well, a pile needs a good volume of stuff, more or less a cubic yard/meter. And the staff needs to be contained so that it stays piled up. In my yard, it has to be contained in a bin that has a top, or the raccoons and other critters make off with the kitchen scraps before they ever get a chance to compost.
How to make compost?
And that’s IT! If you really want your pile to heat up, you need to work harder at the mixing turning. That’s most important to people who put manures in their piles. The manure really helps the pile heat up, but it also makes it really important that it does so because the manure can contain pathogens. I never put manure in my pile and so it doesn’t usually heat up very much. But it still breaks down and produces nice finished compost, so I don’t care.
There’s lots more detail you can get into if you want to get technical. Preferably don’t put weed seeds in your pile, especially if your pile doesn’t run hot enough to cook them. As long as you pull your weeds before they go to seed, it isn’t an issue. The composting work is done by micro-organisms, so getting a pile started, it helps to seed it with some handfuls of good rich soil. Doesn’t take much. Your pile should sit on the ground so that earthworms can come into it. Otherwise, no additives are needed. Don’t let people sell you fancy “compost starter,” the handful of soil does the same thing.
So that is all you need to get started: a bin/cage, a range of different organic stuff, including greens and browns from a variety of sources, air, and water. Go forth and compost! It really is the best thing you can do for your garden. That’s all about composting basics.