We have composted for years. We are very casual about it but after trial and error I can tell you the system that works best for us.
Our dirt is horrible, plus and I like flowers. I use our compost as potting soil and to amend our vegetable garden soil- also to mulch around new bushes and trees to keep moisture in.
Three piles is best. The first pile is the pile you are currently adding to. The second pile is the one that is decomposing and the third is the one you are using for dirt and has completely decomposed.
If you have a lot of compost, like we do, I would build four foot by four foot crates. That way you can rotate the three piles. If you are thinking of something a little smaller or cheaper, and you live somewhere where you can easily dig, dig a 3 foot wide by 2 feet deep hole. Fill it all spring, summer and fall, then let it rest and dig another one in the winter. You can have three holes like this. It obviously will take 2 1/2 to 3 seasons before you can use your first hole.
We don't compost in the winter because it is frozen but some climates can. I don't bother about thermometers or anything like that. I just let nature do its work. A thermometer would be useful if you want to be sure all harmful bacteria is killed, and if you want a fast decomposing rate.
The first pile of garbage that turned into dirt gave me a thrill. I couldn't believe it!
We water our fresh or currently being added to pile once per week during the summer. It needs to be moist.
I don't put animal products in my compost. No animal fats. Ground bones or something like that would be okay but I prefer the dog not get too interested, and it isn't encouraged to use animal products. Never put weeds or molded onions in and be leery of bad potatoes. Onions and potatoes can carry veggie diseases that could make your compost unfit to grow onions and potatoes in the future. Weed seeds may survive and no one wants to use soil with weed seeds in it.
We don't use dog poop but do used chicken, cow and rabbit poop. Grass clippings and leaves are fine. Pine needles and orange peels may make it too acidic. I use them sparingly. Straw, hay any of those things are good. Don't be hyper about what goes in from the kitchen. Salad with dressing is fine. If a little ground beef ends up out there it is no biggie. I've also decomposed a limited amount of paper towels.Sticks and bark don't compost well. (It takes them too long to decompose.) Dead flowers and veggie plants are okay.
Really it can be a very laid back or very complicated activity. I choose the very laid back route. A note on the animal products: The main reason people avoid them is probably because they are like wood and take much longer to decompose. If you are putting anything unusual in your pile spread it out so it decomposes quicker.
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