Compost is probably the key factor to a successful organic garden. It enhances soil by aiding the growth of useful microbes, neutralizing soil pH and supplying nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Best of all, you can make it yourself.
Start by choosing a composting location. Look for a level, well-drained area that is close enough to your home to be convenient and accessible. It should not be overexposed to wind and not left in direct sunlight. The ideal location is sheltered, in partial sunlight and close to a water source.
Next, set up your composting area. Roll out and cut a 10'L x 3'W piece of galvanized chicken wire using wire cutters. Fold back 3" of wire at each end of the cut piece to provide a strong, clean edge that will be easy to attach. Form a circle with the chicken wire and attach the ends with 5" pieces of easy-to-twist wire. For additional support, place three or four wood or metal posts around the inside of the chicken wire circle and pound them firmly into the ground with a hammer. An ideal compost pile is about 3' wide and at least 3' tall.
To keep moisture in, line the bottom of the area with two garbage bags.
To dissuade wildlife, cover the top of the bin with additional chicken wire and secure with wire. Place a tarp over the wire cover to keep the rain out.
You will add to the compost pile gradually over time. You can collect waste from in and out of your home to begin composting. The first type of waste is green debris like grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds and plant trimmings. These are key composting ingredients because they provide nitrogen. Combine items like this with a small amount of good soil or a compost starter that contains enzymes and other stimulants to help the compost decompose as fast as possible. You will also need brown debris, such as dry leaves, finely chopped wood and bark chips, shredded newspaper or straw. The brown debris provides carbon. To ensure an even composition, alternate layers of green and brown materials. Ideally, you should have much more carbon than nitrogen in your compost. The perfect ratio is 30:1. Be sure the soil is mixed well with the other matter.
Do NOT add animal waste, meats, oils, dairy, diseased plants, weeds or plants treated with pesticides or herbicides to your compost.
Break up materials before layering to make organic materials heat up rapidly, decompose quickly and produce uniform compost.
To prevent odor and other unpleasant side effects of composting, make sure you properly maintain your compost pile. Once a week, turn the compost with a pitchfork or shovel to move material from the edges to the inside, allowing necessary aeration. Make sure the compost stays damp but not soaked. It should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. If the material is too dry, add a little water. Keep track of its temperature as well. If it is warm or hot, everything is working properly. If it is similar to the outdoor temperature, you'll need to add more nitrogen-rich green materials to the mix.
Whenever you turn the compost, add water if necessary. Locating your compost heap near a water source is helpful.
You'll know your compost is finished when it's no longer hot and the materials are no longer identifiable. It should have a dark brown, moist and earthy consistency and smell. It can take up to two to three months to fully process if you consistently maintain it. Once your compost is ready, spread it in your garden.
Animal manure is another great soil additive. It's a source of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. However, it must be dried out or "aged" before applying it to soil so that ammonia and other harmful substances in it dissipate and don't pose a threat to burgeoning plant life. Manure also can be added to your compost pile.
Find or purchase earthworms and add them to your compost pile to accelerate decomposition.
Use a compost tumbler. It will provide a place to store your compost as well as aerate it. The tumbler rolls, tossing the compost around on the inside, letting air in and out, which is beneficial to the decomposition process.