A compost pile isn’t the most attractive thing to have in a garden so choose a level area that is out of the way but accessible to a wheelbarrow and a spading fork, with a little space to work it. Behind a garage or garden shed would be a good location. Ideally, it should be located away from trees as tree roots tend to grow up into that nice, nutrient-rich compost. You won’t want to have to dig them out when it’s time to put your finished compost on the garden, but if you have no choice, a double layer of landscape fabric or even old carpet laid nap side down on the ground underneath will help slow down invading roots.
Spring is a good time to start, when you are cleaning up flower beds, raking leaves left from fall, and mowing lawns.
You need at least two piles, or bins. Start by filling one with a thick layer of leaves, a layer of green stuff, and a couple shovels of topsoil or composted manure as an activator to get the decomposition process kick-started (or buy a bag of compost starter from your local garden center); then layers of grass, organic waste from your kitchen, more leaves, etc. When the bin is full, start flipping it over into the second bin with a spading fork, beginning with a layer of leaves; adding more organic waste and garden debris and covering that up from the first bin, and so on. Repeat until that one is full, then reverse the process. After you flip the contents of the two bins thoroughly three or four times, you should have some pretty good compost.
Bins can be built of a variety of materials. We have three, two 4' x 4' wire ones, and a double one made with four 4' x 8’ hog panels, but we have an acre of trees that shed leaves and a lot of garden debris. The average gardener might not need one that big. You don’t really even need a bin, a pile will do; but a bin keeps things contained and neater. Two three-sided (open on the front) bins can be constructed with fence posts and 2”x 4” fence wire, 3’ high; pallets on edge in the same configuration, snow fencing, picket fence; or if you are handy with tools, you can get as fancy as you like with boards and chicken wire. Two 3’x 3’ bins side by side is a good size to start with.
"Unless you are in a race or something, there are only two “rules” for successful composting: Stop throwing all that stuff away, and pile it up somewhere.”
"Speaking of Gardens " column, published in The Joplin Globe, February 16, 2014