Cold composting is much less-labor intensive, but considerably slower than hot composting methods. Composting bins, or piles, are simply filled up as compostable materials become available.
Compost can be harvested gradually as it becomes ready by digging from the bottom of the heap. (This is much easier with a commercial composter like the one pictured here, or a custom-built one that also allows access to the base.)
Alternatively, you can build up one cold compost heap or bin over a season, and then let it sit while you start filling up the next. In my experience it can take up to a year, using this method, to achieve good, usable compost.
It's worth noting that cold composting will be unlikely to kill weed seeds or plant diseases, so it is worth being careful about what you put in your bin. On the other hand, however, I have heard some permaculture enthusiasts argue that a cold heap will have more beneficial microorganisms that can actually live outside of the composting environment. (I am skeptical about this claim. Even hot heaps cool down and go through a secondary, cooler decomposition.)
Because cold composting doesn't involve turning the pile, getting enough oxygen to avoid anaerobic decomposition (and the slime and smell that goes with it) can be tricky. One of the best methods is to simply add plenty of scrunched up newspaper, cardboard and other high-fiber, carbon-rich materials in with your kitchen scraps and other waste.
Cold composting is great for folks who may not generate huge amounts of organic waste at any one time, or those who simply don't have the time, energy or interest for more involved methods. But be prepared to wait if you want to use the end result.
Photo: Sami Grover