1. The pile will break down faster if it gets hot. Merchant says the key to a hot pile is building it large enough so that it can generate heat and sustain it long enough for the microbes to do their thing.
2. Turn the pile once a week or so to aerate it. Use a fancy aerator tool, a garden fork or just a sturdy stick.
3. Water lightly 1 or 2 times a week. The pile should be damp but not sopping wet.
4. Watch out for lizards, which like to sneak in and snack on tasty insects. After my first disastrous encounter with a lizard, I've started banging on the sides to give them a chance to escape.
5. Screen or sift the finished compost and toss any large chunks back in.
6. When you add green matter or kitchen scraps, add a shovelful of dirt to the top to cover it up. That will keep flies and odors at bay.
7. Chop or break up large pieces of garden debris before adding to the pile.
8. Get the ratio of browns to greens right or the pile won’t break down — or it will turn smelly and slimy.