1. Choose the right plant.
Begin by locating an appropriate composting site. Choose an area with year-round easy access that’s convenient for chores. If possible, pick a level, well-drained spot far from waterways or wells so any runoff doesn’t contaminate surface or groundwater.
2. To bin or pile?
This is your choice, but a bin system typically helps keep things neater and easier to manage. If you choose pile, to compost and generate heat, pile should be at least 3 cubic feet—the approximate size of a washing machine. In colder climates, piles may need to be larger in order to generate enough heat.
3. Keep it covered!
Covering with a tarp, plastic sheet, or a roof during the rainy season prevents the compost’s valuable nutrients from washing away and causing environmental problems.
4. Get air into the pile.
Oxygen is a crucial component to composting, as again, bacteria and fungi require oxygen to do their work and break down organic matter. The simplest way to provide it is to use a small tractor to turn the pile. If the compost is starved for air, it will become foul-smelling rather than earthy.
5. Keep it damp.
Compost should be about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. For dry climates or in the summer, find a chore-efficient way to water your compost, either with a garden hose as you turn the pile or by hosing down the manure and stall waste daily before dumping. Compost should be damp but not dripping.
6. Monitor the heat.
You can monitor temperatures easily using a long-stemmed compost thermometer purchased at a plant nursery or garden store. When the temperature goes down, that’s the sign that you need to turn and mix the compost. After turning several times, if the temperatures stay low, that indicates you are moving into the curing phase and out of the active composting phase.
7. Curing compost.
This is when the finished compost sits and “stabilizes.” Worms and small insects move in and break it down further. Compost piles can cure for a month up to a year; the longer it cures the more stable it becomes, and the less likely that nutrients will leach out at the first drop of rain.
8. Finished compost.
How actively you monitor your pile’s air and water and how frequently you turn it determines how quickly it will finish. It should take around three months, perhaps longer in the winter when microbial activity slows. You will know your compost is ready when the material looks evenly textured, crumbly, dark-colored like dirt, and is earthy-smelling. Its temperature should be 90° F or less.