Now that gardening season is in full swing, it seems a natural time to talk about what to do with your plant and food waste throughout the year. Obviously during the gardening season you will have plant waste that accumulates from weeding, pruning, mowing, etc. Instead of throwing all your garden waste away or just tossing it in the woods, you can start a compost pile. Composting will allow you to cut down on the amount of trash you produce and will provide 100% free, nutrient rich soil that you can use in your garden in future years. There are many options for beginning composters to start with, ranging from fancy store bought containers and tumblers for compost, to simple and cheap homemade compost containers. If you want to start composting right away, one easy idea is to simply nail together 3 shipping pallets so that you create a three sided bin, leaving one side open to add compost and to turn the pile. Put the bin somewhere a ways away from the house and start you pile! You can also use the easiest method there is and simply start a compost pile without any surrounding structure, as long as you heap it all up into one spot, and aren't too worried about animals getting into it, then you are good to go! The following links provide more ideas for starting you own composting system.
An overview of different ways to start composting and different bins you can purchase: http://www.composting101.com/compost-bins.html
DIY compost bin made out of pallets: http://www.instructables.com/id/Pallet-Compost-Bin/
Composting isn’t limited to your garden waste, many food waste products can also be composted such as fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds. If you keep a small compost container in your kitchen you can just throw all of your food waste into it and only take it outside to add it to the compost pile when necessary. One simple idea for a kitchen compost pail is to use a gallon ice cream bucket. If you want something that will permit air flow you can make a homemade compost pail using an old coffee can and some charcoal filters.
DIY compost bucket with filter: http://www.diynatural.com/kitchen-compost-bucket-diy-easy-and-frugal/
If you want something that looks a bit nicer to set on your kitchen counter there are tons of different containers you can buy online or in stores, here is a website with a good selection: http://www.compostbins.com/kitchen-composters/kitchen-compost-crocks-&-containers/12177+4295105382+4295105416.cfm
Maintaining a compost pile can be pretty hands off, but there are some guidelines to composting for those who want the quickest and most ideal production of good, nutrient rich, compost. The first step is to have the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio. Carbon provides energy for the breakdown of materials, and nitrogen is essential for the production of protein. the best C:N ratio for compost is somewhere around 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, or 25-30:1. If the C:N ratio is too high (excess carbon), decomposition slows down. If the C:N ratio is too low (excess nitrogen) your compost pile will smell pretty bad. The way you regulate your C:N ratio is by controlling your compost input, for example, coffee grounds are a nitrogen source and straw is a carbon source, so you would want 25-30 parts straw for every 1 part of coffee grounds you add to the pile. The second step is to make sure your compost pile gets enough oxygen, to provide oxygen just make sure you turn your compost pile often, using a pitchfork to do this every once in a while is usually sufficient. The next step is to regulate the moisture of your compost pile, this is pretty simple and just entails making sure your compost stays moist, not too dry, and not sopping wet. Compost connoisseurs might also monitor the temperature of their pile, etc. but really composting doesn't HAVE to be all that scientific, just throwing all your garden and food waste into a compost pile is a whole lot better than filling the trash with it, so don't feel like you have to have a perfect production to start you own compost.
Detailed guidelines for those who want to know more specifics about creating compost: http://www.composting101.com/
Here is a list of materials that can and cannot be composted and their and how it is best to add them to your pile: http://growpinemountain.com/compost
Start your compost pile now, and you just might have beautiful soil ready in time for some fall planting!