Successful Composting: Balance Is Key
Successful composting requires four things: carbon, nitrogen, water and oxygen. A good way to remember how to keep a balance between carbon and nitrogen is to think of them as brown and green. Brown materials are things with lots of fiber like straw, fallen leaves or woody plant stalks. Green materials are things with lots of nutrients like kitchen scraps and lawn clippings. Try to keep a balance of three parts brown to one part green.
Compost Shouldn't Smell
Contrary to popular belief, composting is not the same as rotting, and it shouldn't be smelly. Keep it moist but not soggy and turn it every week or so to keep it processing evenly. Avoid attracting animals by keeping it tightly covered and don't compost meat or fatty kitchen scraps. Even in colder climates, you can compost year-round. Add kitchen scraps even if they freeze and leaves and lawn clippings when you've got them.
For composting to happen quickly, the pile needs to be about a cubic yard of material. Too small and it won't heat up. Plastic tumbler-type composters provide the fastest compost, but you can also just use wire bins covered with a sheet of plastic or a tarp.
If you don't have a good place for a compost bin, try sheet composting. You can spread shredded materials up to 6 inches thick over your garden beds in the fall, till them in and let it all process until you plant again in the spring.
Composting Beats Fertilizer
No commercial fertilizer, even organic, can provide the range of nutrients, enzymes and helpful microorganisms that compost provides. It's impossible to over-fertilize with compost. And it puts worms and other insects to work for you as laborers in your soil improvement project.