Unearth black gold in your yard by building a compost bin that makes use of otherwise useless food and plant scraps. No longer relegated to the farm, composting is gaining popularity in urban settings as a good way to reduce your family's waste and improve the productivity of your homegrown food and flowers. It doesn't take a lot to get started. First, find loads of information and composting equipment at online stores like Sears and Gardener's Supply Company.

What You'll Need

You can buy any number of different compost containers, from a simple plastic barrel that rests on the ground to others that come with a handle for easily turning your pile. Or, in a pinch, make one by driving three stakes into the ground about three to four feet apart and winding chicken wire around them to form a rough "barrel."

Next, collect green materials, including food scraps and yard clippings like fresh-mown grass and weeds in one pile, and in another, gather brown materials like sticks, twigs, leaves, straw and hay. Animal and dairy products are not appropriate for a healthy compost pile since they can rot and attract unwanted pests to your yard. On the other hand, shredded newspaper, tea bags, coffee grounds, and dye- and chemical-free paper are excellent additions.

Build Your "Lasagna"

Creating a healthy compost pile is a lot like putting together a dish of lasagna. First, put a layer of green materials in the composting bin. Then, cover it with a layer of brown materials. Repeat the process until your bin is full and water to keep the ingredients consistently moist while they break down.

Evaluate and Adjust

Be sure to turn your compost pile every few days to let in fresh oxygen and ensure it decomposes evenly. This is a good way to check that the temperature is hot enough to break down the pile without creating unwanted rot. If it doesn't seem to be working, add more green material to raise the pile's temperature. On the other hand, a pile that smells like ammonia might need more brown material.

If you turn the pile and add water on a regular basis, expect to have good, crumbly compost within a month. A pile that is left to fend for itself could take a year or more before it's ready to use. That's why it's a good idea to have two or three compost bins going at different stages, so you always have a fresh supply of compost when you need it.

Use It Everywhere

Fresh compost is great for anything grown in containers or in the earth. Turn it into garden soil to give plants a healthy foundation in the spring or to replenish the soil over the winter. Or, use it as a layer of mulch around trees and shrubs to feed the plant while keeping in valuable moisture. Saving a little compost from each batch to add to the next one will give the new batch a head start.