Building a compost pile is a bit like following a recipe: You need to mix the right ingredients in the right amounts.
A compost pile needs "browns" and "greens," shorthand for carbon- and nitrogen-based plant material, respectively, to feed microbes as they break down the scraps. Browns can include leaves, twigs, and wood chips, as well as shredded newsprint and cardboard. Greens would be fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and, not so obviously, coffee grounds and eggshells. Layer browns and greens in roughly equal amounts in your pile. Be sure to chop up or shred bulky stuff like branches first, so it's easier to break down. Store food scraps indoors in a sealed container before emptying it into your pile. When you start cutting the grass in springtime, you can add the clippings as long as you don't treat your lawn with pesticides, which could kill the needed microbes. For a complete list of what
can go into a pile, go to epa.gov/epawaste