Our first compost pile went in conjunction with our first raised bed garden. There are a lot of leftover pulled weeds, rotten vegetables, etc. from a garden, and I wanted to do something productive with those leftovers. My own father's compost pile was a concrete block construction. We opted for a wire mesh cylinder. The information on how to build one came from Back to Basics by Reader's Digest. This article will give the basic information to start your own.
The basic idea is to layer materials in such a way that the decomposing lends itself to keeping the pile "hot," thus killing bacteria, and breaking the pile down to healthy, usable dirt. Recommended height is 4 feet. Higher is too much and inhibits breakdown, lower loses too much heat. You can put your pile in a big trashcan, half buried in the ground, with holes in the bottom, you can build a screened bin, or use stacked up tires. Or you can just pile it in a corner of the yard.
Start with 2 to 3 inches coarse material, like twigs, cornstalks, straw, so air can reach the bottom of the pile. Next add 3 to 6 inches of organic material, like garden trash or dead leaves, vegetable or fruit table scraps, you can also throw in dryer lint, vacuum cleaner bag contents, and floor sweepings. This is my favorite part, because I've always felt guilty throwing away potato peels, carrot tops, etc. DON'T use anything with fat, or meat, or cheese, these leftovers attract pests and breed the wrong kind of bacteria. Next comes the 3 inch manure layer. This can be any nitrogen rich material, including fertilizer, dog and cat droppings, duck, chicken, cow or horse manure, feathers, hair clippings, and dried blood meal. Last layer is a thin coating of topsoil; some add a little lime. Continue to layer in this manner until pile is 4 feet high.
Moisture is important for good composting. Shape the top of the pile in a bowl, so water will drip down. Water it every couple of days in dry weather, or cover it in very wet weather. Too much water brings undesirable chemical reactions-my guess is mold or mildew, rot. Should just be moist.
Turn the pile once a week to aerate it. This is necessary if you want quick breakdown, you can leave it from fall to spring and decomposition will also take place. Pile is ready when material dry and crumbly, like topsoil. And it does happen; we've seen it!
Quick note on rabbit manure: because it is not nitrogen "hot" it can be put right on the garden, but chicken/duck/horse must be composted or it will "burn" your plants.
Good working compost pile will be steaming in the middle. Also will be full of worms, we once had a mouse living in our toasty pile! Now, go get composting, and make use of all those table scraps and yard trash!