Composting: From Waste to Organic Matters

All organic matter eventually decomposes.

Composting speeds the process by providing an ideal environment for bacteria and other descomposing microorganisms.

These microorganisms consist of fungi, bacteria, and larger organisms such as worms, sow bugs, and numerous others.

Decomposing organisms need from key elements to thrive: nitrogen, carbon, moisture, and oxygen.

Mixing materials high in nitrogen (clover, livestock manure, and fresh grass clippings) and those high in carbon (dried leaves and twigs) will produce the best results. If there isn’t a good supply of nitrogen-rich material, a handful of lawn fertilizer will help. (If a bad smell develops, you may have too much nitrogen in the pile-take note of any particular measurements.)

Moisture’s provided by rain, but you may need to water or cover the pile to maintain dampness (But be careful not to saturate the pile). Turning or mixing the pile will provide oxygen, while frequent turning will give you faster decomposition.

The final result is compost (or humus). It’ll look and feel like fertile garden soil. Compost works on all soil types and provides important nutrients for plants.

Composting can be simple or involved, depending on your efforts, the amount of yard and other wastes you have, and how fast you want results.

Many other materials can be added to a compost, such as straw, coffee grounds, woody brush, vegetable and fruit scraps, sawdust, and shredded paper. DO NOT USE MEAT SCRAPS (you’ll attract animals), DISEASED PLANTS, OR DOG AND CAT MANURE (carries diseases).

There are several types of composting; two of these are cold or slow composting and hot composting.

With cold or slow composting, grass clippings and dry leaves can just be piled on the ground in a bin (This can be a garbage can with ventilation, a wire mesh enclosure, a picket fence, pressure-treated wood, brick or concrete blocks, and other materials.)

Cold composting may proceed faster in a warmer climate.

No maintenance is required, but the decomposing process can take several months to a year or more.

If you don’t have time to tend to the compost heap (at least every other day), have little yard waste, or are not in a hurry, this will work for you.

Be sure to keep weeds and diseased plants out of the pile or heap (the temperatures reached won’t be high enough to kill off the weeds or diseased organisms).

Adding chopped-up or shredded yard waste will speed up the decomposing process.

Hot composting will require more work, but you can have finished compost within a few weeks, weather permitting.

When conditions are favorable for plant growth, those same conditions are also favorable for com[osting. But since composting produces heat, the process may continue through late fall or winter.

Mixing high-carbon and high-nitrogen material in a 1 to 1 ratio will work best for hot composting. A pile with the minimum dimensions of 3′ x 3′ x 3′ is needed for efficient heating. For the best heating, make a pile that’s 4 or 5 feet in each dimension. As decomposition occurs, the pile will shrink.

Hot piles will reach 110 to 160 degrees F (start turning when the pile’s internal temperature reaches around 130-140 degrees F. Use a compost thermometer, or reach into the pile to determine if it’s too hot to the touch-if it IS, you may too much nitrogen. Add some more carbon materials to reduce the heating process. (Punch holes in the sides of the pile for aeration-in other words, supply with air.)

If you move and turn your pile materials at least every other day, you should get compost in less than 4 weeks. Turning every other week will produce compost in 1-3 months. Finished compost will smell sweet and be cool and crumbly to the touch.


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