How often do I turn the pile?
How often you turn your pile will affect the speed at which finished material is ready to be returned to the garden; if you’ve got time, you can escape turning and just let nature take its course (again, nobody’s perfect—and would you like to turn a 40-foot-long windrow every few weeks?). I turn twice a year, in spring and late summer or fall, and extract the lowest layer, where the finished stuff is hiding.
After 20 years of doing this by hand, I recently treated myself to a small tractor with a front-end loader, and the work will be easier from now on. Before using the compost in the garden, I toss it through a homemade sifter, into a wheelbarrow, to cull the stones and sticks and unfinished bits like tenacious corncobs or thick roots. I top-dress my flower beds with an inch or two of the sifted material each spring, along with some all-natural organic fertilizer, and use the rest to top up my raised vegetable-garden beds. Yummy.