Hi Faith et al.
I LOVE compost. I love to collect the materials for it. I love to layer it. I love to mix it. I love to run my hands through the decomposed beautiful soil at the end. And I love the results when my sweetie uses it in the garden.
It took me a while to get it right, though. I spent a fair chunk of change on a rotating bin once and it was a total waste of money. It absolutely would not keep the moisture at the right level. Now I simply have two big rubbermaid compost boxes with lids and ventilation slats - picked up for $10 each at a yard sale. As long as I add some moisture periodically in the summer months, it works fine.
A HUGE key to successful compost is adding animal manure. I know that's a little trickier when you live in the city but, with care, you can do it. Aged horse manure has little odor. I also found that goat manure, especially with old bedding straw, was pretty benign. Cow manure STINKS. Chicken manure has some smell but dissipates within a week and would probably be okay if you used it in small quantities.
Even in the city, you can likely round up some free manure. Check craigslist in the free or farm/garden listings or put an ad in the wanted section of it. There could be someone with miniature goats even in your area, Faith.
For households that include males, it's commonly advised to have them urinate on the compost pile. This adds nitrogen and moisture. Don't worry, urine is sterile as it leaves the body and, providing there is sufficient carbon in the pile, there will be no noticeable ammonia odor later.
For carbon sources, I use all my shredded paper including the Sunday paper minus the glossy colored sections, torn up cardboard, dried leaves, old garden plants (including nightshades), weeds that haven't gone to seed, and other plant material. I've picked up bags of pine needles from craigslist and just got a dozen huge bags of alder sawdust from there as well. Any paper napkins or papertowels from the kitchen go in the compost bin. Even worn out cotton rags get tossed in there.
For those wanting to go even further, check out Humanure.
The author goes into a lot of detail about chemicals and contaminants breaking down in a properly managed compost pile and has the tests to back it up.
For me, I'm currently happy to stick with my kitchen and garden scraps, paper, scavenged plant material, and I hope to go talk to the folks just around the corner from my new home about their HUGE pile of animal manure (goat, horse, cow, and mule). Eventually we'll also have our own chickens for pest management and to get eggs for the dogs, so I'll be able to get homegrown manure, too.