You want to start with a simple enclosure that will hold about 1 cubic yard of compostables. A simple, inexpensive bin can be constructed from an 11-foot length of welded fence wire cut from a 48-inch-wide roll with a 2-inch by 4-inch mesh or 2-inch by 2-inch mesh. Join the two ends to form a cylinder. If a larger bin is needed, you can use five wooden shipping pallets. Lay one flat on the ground where you want your bin to be, then stand the other four pallets around it to form the four sides. Tie, nail, or bolt the corners together. Commercial bins can also be purchased from your local garden or building center. There are several attractive designs available. If appearance is critical, you may want to get this type of compost bin.
Next you will need to obtain a long-handled pitchfork for handling the compostables and the compost. If you are operating a small pile, you may be able to use a shovel or a rake, but a pitch fork will make the job easier and faster.
A source of water will be next on the list of items to have on hand. A 3 or 5-gallon bucket for carrying water will be fine and you can use the same bucket for hauling the product compost. I find that it is much more convenient to run a garden hose to the compost pile. That way I can water all of the other plants in the yard, too.
If you are going into the compost operation in a big way, you may want a wheelbarrow or a wagon to haul the material.
Think about where you need to locate your compost bin. You will be putting grass clippings and leaves in it as well as some food scraps. The product compost can be used in your flower beds, garden, potted plants, and even in your yard. The compost bin will need to be on a flat surface.
You can start the compost pile any time of the year. Fill the compost bin with shredded leaves, yard trimmings, food scraps (not meat, grease, or greasy materials) and wet paper towels, depending on the material available. To minimize pest problems, add the food scraps to the center of the compost pile. This is a good time to use your pitchfork. Never leave food scraps showing in the pile. Bury them in the center of the yard waste.
You should turn your compost pile one week after starting, at two-week intervals for two months and then as often as you wish, maybe never. The less you turn it the longer it will take to break down. When you squeeze the composting material in your hand and do not feel moisture, add water to the pile. The material will settle and shrink. You can reload your bin as additional material comes available or you can stockpile leaves to start your next pile. You may want to evaluate if you will need to start another compost bin to handle all of the yard waste you are generating. That way when the first bin is full, you can allow it to decompose thoroughly while you add the new material to the second bin.
Once the material in the compost pile stops looking like grass clippings and leaves and starts looking like crumbly earthy material, the compost is ready to use. You can remove the bin from the compost or the compost from the bin, whichever is easier. If you are not ready to use the compost immediately, mound up the composted material and cover it with plastic to keep it dry. You can use the finished compost in the garden as a mulch or soil conditioner. To make compost into potting soil, screen it and mix two parts screened compost with one part sand. If you don't have a garden, donate your compost to a church, school or neighborhood park.
Special thanks to Dr. Bill Cochran, Solid Waste Specialist
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, H. Rouse Caffey, Chancellor
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service, Jack Bagent, Acting Vice Chancellor & Director