Cross-posted with /r/composting
I'm pretty proud of the results of my first year of serious composting (before this year, my method was, "dump kitchen scraps in a pile and turn it occasionally"), so I figured I'd share. Here's a picture of the pile, opened up yesterday for turning/dumping fresh kitchen scraps. Closer view, and even closer. As you can see, it still has a ways to go. It consists of mostly kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and oak leaves, and I guess the latter of those takes quite a while to break down. Here's a picture of it covered with a tarp after I was done, yesterday.
This is actually a combination of eight different smaller piles I worked on throughout the year while I was teaching myself to make compost. The first piles I made were basically just the result of mowing some tall grass/wild plants in the spring--I had thought that since I was mowing up both leaves and grass that the ratio would be just right for composting. I was wrong. Those three piles didn't really go anywhere. I should've added far more leaf matter, kept them wetter, and combined them into one rather than three.
The fourth pile was a combination of kitchen scraps and leaf matter. I had about a 1/2:1 ratio of leaf matter to kitchen scraps. It turned out okay, but of course, I should've added more browns. The fifth pile (featuring a guest who liked the "fresh greens" that I often went outside to spray onto the pile, if you catch my drift...) started out with probably a 1:1 ratio of browns to greens and ended up with a 2:1 ratio, since I started actually figuring things out. I used both mowed-up leaves and mowed-up household paper waste for my browns, and kitchen scraps and grass clippings for my greens. The pile did end up getting fairly warm. I turned it every 2-4 days.
The sixth and seventh piles were nothing but oak leaves mixed with grass clippings. I wasn't great about getting the ratios exactly right, but they were both probably close to 1 1/2:1 browns to greens. Both heated up after I turned them, every few days, and turned out great. I think I do have some pictures, but can't find them.
I started using a tarp with my eighth pile, and that tarp, as well as the increased amount of browns--always at least 2:1--made a huge difference, as previously I had a hard time keeping piles at the right moisture level. Either they'd dry out in the sun or they'd get soaked in the rain. The tarp protected from both and helped insulate the pile, enabling it to get to the right temperature despite being fairly small.
I tried to follow the Berkeley method closely (other than that I added to it every time I turned it). If I added new scraps, I let it sit for four days; otherwise, I turned it every other day. I started adding pretty much anything to it. One time while I was turning it, I found a dessicated dead robin nearby and tossed that in. There was no trace of it the next time I turned the pile.
Fairly recently, I combined all of my piles into one, as you saw above. This makes it a lot harder to turn, but it seems to be going well. Instead of making a new pile and letting this one sit, I've continued adding to this one every week, when I turn it (now that it's this big, it's hard to find time to turn it more often than that). I'm not sure if I'll be able to do this through winter. I've been stocking up on coffee grounds from Starbucks (I have maybe 8 bags of them sitting in the garage?) to help me keep it going, but it gets pretty cold here in Michigan. Maybe I should start a new pile in the winter rather than keeping this one going; I haven't decided, yet. I'm happy to hear your suggestions.
Thanks for reading! Tremendous thanks to /r/composting; everyone there is incredibly helpful, and there are many very knowledgeable folks there. I couldn't have learned this much about composting without them. I've offered them my five invitations, so hopefully we can eventually get the same kind of composting/gardening discussion over here!
I'm hardly an expert after just one year of composting, but I'm happy to answer any questions you have about my methods, about composting in general, or about how you might get started.
Now for some bonus pics, just for fun:
A bear admiring my pile
That same bear about to destroy a bird feeder... D'oh.
Compost/Hugelkultur-in-progress (I'm not sure how people find the time to gather enough woody materials/grass clippings to make a hugelkultur all at once!)