First off a confession: I am a lazy composter. I throw my stuff in my pile and let the magic of nature do it's thing. This means that my compost takes 2-3 times longer than anyone else using a hot composting method. But I will get into more details below and point you in the direction of some great resources as I go along.
To start off you will need a place to put a compost pile, materials to construct a composting box, and plant clippings. My compost box is constructed from 4 T-posts, coated garden fencing mesh and zip ties. Other composting boxes can be made from upcycled pallets or other materials, but see paragraph 2, plus I didn't find these plans until just now.
You can also buy compost bins like this one, but beware the plastic bins, they can get so hot your plants will produce a foul smelling plant juice. Unlike wood or wire mesh composters they don't get the needed air circulation.
As for what to add to the compost bin once you build it you need a mix of both green plant clippings (e.g. grass) and brown plant clippings (e.g. fall leaves), adding these will give you the appropriate mix of carbon (brown) and nitrogen (green) that you need to promote growth in your garden. Unfortunately, they tend to be available at different times of the year.
There are two types of compost which I am going to touch on here: Hot composting and cold composting.
Hot composting can only take place if you have the required balance of nitrogen, carbon, water and air. To accomplish this you need to add alternating layers of brown and green plant materials. I would suggest each layer be approximately 4 inches thick. You also need to make sure to water your compost. Don't let it get soggy, but don't let it dry out either. The last is air. About once a week you need to turn your compost pile to add in air. See I am tired just thinking about it, but you get good compost in 2-3 months. FYI, it is normal for this type of compost to steam.
Cold composting on the other hand is much simpler. Build compost box, add plant clippings, wait 6-9 months.
For more information, I recommend checking out Composting 101.
Good stuff to add:
Grass clippings, food waste (vegetables), coffee grounds, garden waste.
Fall leaves, hair or pet fur, fruit, shredded newspaper or cardboard, peanut shells.
Stuff to watch out for:
If you decide to add fruit or vegetables to your compost make sure to bury them at least 6 inches from any side of your bin to deter rodents.
Don't add meat, pet droppings, or anything with oil in it. It will sour the batch.
Don't put diseased plants or weeds in your bin, it probably won't be hot enough to kill either of them.
But wait you say, when and how can I use my compost?
This is a great question. Once you have created a pile, you need to let it 'cook' for awhile, either actively or passively managing it. Once you have determined there must be compost in the pile, I recommend sifting it through a 1/4 inch mesh screen to remove any large pieces of vegetation (to go back into the compost pile). Then place around plants or till into your garden plot.
Pretty upcycled stuff to decorate your garden with while you are waiting for the compost:
As always hoping your garden is a little greener,
This 'n That Creations