If it's February in North Carolina, then it's time to start your garden. But plants need dirt, and in these parts, soil quality varies: In the Triangle, there is a lot of clay—the dirt is red as sunburn—and in areas toward the coast, naturally, it's sandy. To improve the quality of the soil, and boost my garden, I add compost.
Composting is also an easy way to reduce your household waste and divert it from the landfills into growing food. Getting started is easy. You don't have to buy a specially designed composting unit (though there are many on the Internet); a plastic trash can will work fine. Make sure it has wheels and a tight-fitting lid. Drill half-inch holes on the bottom, sides and top of the can to allow air in and water to drain. With a razor, carefully cut notches near the lip so you can tie a bungee cord across the top so the lid will not fall off or be pried open by conniving raccoons.
Now you're ready to compost. Think of composting in terms of browns and greens. Browns are dead materials, dry leaves and yard clippings, sawdust, shredded newspaper and cardboard. Greens are kitchen trimmings (no meat, oils, or bones), tea bags and coffee grinds, lawn clippings, green leaves and manures. Aim for an equal mixture of browns and greens; cut large pieces, such as broccoli stalks, into smaller segments so they will be easier to biodegrade.
Make sure your pile is not too small, as the materials won't compost as quickly. Also keep your compost in a sunny, well-drained spot (having wheels on the trash can makes it easy to move around the yard) and add water. The mixture should be the consistency of a sponge. Regularly turn the compost—a pitchfork is useful—and keep checking the moisture to ensure the pile doesn't dry out or become too moist.
Once you get a pile going you can throw all of your yard clippings, kitchen trimmings, and even paper and cardboard products into the bin and let it work its magic. It's ready when it looks and smells like soil.