How to Make Compost

It's easy to cook up your own compost. Just layer grass clippings with a dash of leaves and twigs to create a concoction that turns into humus—the best plant food.

There are two types of composting: cold and hot. Cold composting is as simple as piling up your yard waste or taking out the organic materials in your trash (such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and egg shells) and then piling them in your yard. Over the course of a year or so, the material will decompose. Hot composting is for the more serious gardener; you'll get compost in one to three months during warm weather. Four ingredients are required for fast-cooking hot compost: nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Together, these items feed microorganisms, which speed up the process of decay.

To create your own organic hot-compost heap, wait until you have enough material to make a pile at least 3 feet deep. Then, to ensure an even composition, create alternating 4- to 8-inch layers of green and brown materials. Green materials such as vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and plant trimmings, create nitrogen. Brown materials such as leaves, shredded newspaper, and twigs, create carbon.

Sprinkle water over the pile regularly so it has the consistency of a damp sponge. Don't add too much water or the microorganisms will become water logged and won't heat the pile properly. You can check the temperature of the pile with a thermometer or simply reach into the middle of the pile with your hand.

During the growing season, you should provide the pile with oxygen by turning it once a week with a pitchfork. The best time to turn the compost is when the center of the pile feels warm or the thermometer reads between 130 and 150 degrees F. Stirring up the pile helps it cook faster and prevents material from becoming matted down and developing a bad odor. At this point, the layers have served their purpose of creating equal amounts of green and brown materials throughout the pile, so stir thoroughly.

When the compost no longer gives off heat and becomes dry, brown, and crumbly, it's fully cooked and ready to feed to the garden.