Is your yard covered in leaves as ours is? We have been composting for several years but only recently with good results. A year or so ago, we rebuilt our raised garden and added two new sections for compost materials. (see the post of Sept 20, 2013 HERE)
We have learned that turning the compost several times yields faster and better results. And it really helps to attack it with our small garden gas tiller a few times a season. It helps chop and stir things up. We do not put weeds in the compost and avoid any hard stems which make the process take longer. Nor do we use manure or table scraps, other than vegetables and orange peels. We do add a cup or two of garden fertilizer and a few shovels of regular dirt from time to time. The dirt adds beneficial bacteria, etc.
If the pile gets too hot from too much nitrogen, cool it down by opening it up and adding some with carbon materials like hay and leaves. (we have never bothered with a thermometer) You will smell ammonia (nitrogen gas) in the case where too much fresh animal manure is present. Have you ever been over-come by the odor of chicken manure? What you smell is the ammonia (nitrogen gas).
If the pile is too soggy, there is not enough oxygen; aerate the pile and add some dry materials.
Add lime or wood ashes if the heap begins to smell like garbage. Don't throw in meat scraps unless you want skunks in your backyard-and the sound of screaming neighbors.
The key to successful composting is to have enough air and water, the right ingredients and the correct carbon (straw, hay) to nitrogen (fresh grass clippings, animal manures) ratio. Fresh manure mixed with hay bedding from a barn is the ideal combination. (good luck with that) This translates into about 12 parts carbon and one part nitrogen or a 12 to 1 ration. Most home gardeners use what materials are available.
Leaves are the most abundant and easily accessible material for the compost pile. One of gardening's enduring misconceptions is that leaves such as maple and oak are acidic. Leaves that have gone through the composting process and come out as leaf mold test close to a neutral (pH) of seven. In fact, no matter what kind of tree foliage, including pine needles, the final product will have a pH of between six and seven. That's almost perfect for most plants. (pH refers to the sweetness or acidity of a soil.