Anything that once lived will eventually decompose. Composting is simply the natural process of decay in action. Thousands of micro-organisms that naturally live in the soil feed on moist heaps of organic waste materials, breaking them down and generating heat in the process. As the temperature rises, other “decomposer” organisms such as fungi, bacteria and insects take over the degradation process. When all of the easily decomposed material had been consumed, the temperature drops and ants and earthworms may move in, signaling the compost is now ready for use. The ideal finished compost should be dark, crumbly soil-like humus where none of the original matter is visible. It should smell like freshly turned soil or like the forest floor in spring.
The first thing you will need is a container in which to start your backyard compost pile. Pens, bins and boxes are all good options.
Although they leave your compost pile in full view, pens are very easy and inexpensive to build. When it comes time to turn the pile, simply unwrap and remove the fencing, set it up in a new location and fork the compost back into the pen.
Bins are sturdier than pens and a bit more discreet. They may require a bit more skills to build but are still inexpensive. This design has three walls of concrete blocks, stacked without mortar, and a fourth wall of removable boards.
For the serious composter, this “New Zealand box” design is perfect. This three-box design allows compost to be turned from one box into the next, leaving one box empty for beginning a new batch.
If you don’t want to build your own, there are many manufactured composters on the market. Check out your local hardware store to see what is available.