Composting 101: Your Composting Guide

By David W Lambert

Initially, in our Composting 101 Guide, it would be advantageous to know a few things about composting and how the process works before you jump into it and build your compost pile. Mother Nature will take care of most of the composting procedures because she knows what she is doing, even though breaking down of organic matter into compost is quite a complex endeavor. So without getting too bogged down in the science of it, here is a short review of what exactly is going to be happening in your compost pile, and how you can help keep things on track.

How Your Organic Matter Breaks Down

When your organic matter is breaking down, the term composting is used to describe the procedure. Micro organisms in your compost pile will start your waste decomposing in two ways: chemically and physically.

The First Process Of Physical Decomposition

A community of difficult-working little invertebrates obtain the ball rolling by chewing, shredding, and grinding larger pieces of plant matter into smaller pieces with in excess of surface area. This early stage of decomposition permits bacteria and other chemical decomposers to do their part.

Chemical Decomposition In The Compost

During this phase of composting bacteria and fungi microbes begin to release enzymes that break down the organic compounds present in the pile into more simple compounds. What then happens is as these microbes absorb the nutrients into their bodies, they become the food source for other more complex organisms that in turn eat them. The nutrients that the microbes have eaten are released as these microbes die.

Eventually the decomposed materials get to the point where additional substances cannot be broken down any longer and the process comes to and. the result is a fresh-smelling humus material usable as rich organic soil. The constant food chain of these tiny critters being eaten and eating forms an incredible delicate food network.

The Best Composting Environment For Your Compost Pile

Basically all the little microbes do all of the heavy lifting in this procedure and you are providing the monitoring and maintaining of an acceptable living environment for them. The basic needs for these critters are very simple. They need air, food, water and a comfortable climatic condition to thrive.

Chop Away At Your Organic Matter

Generally, the smaller you can make the pieces of organic matter in your compost pile, the faster will be the rate of decomposition. The reason for this is that the microbes made it easier to break down the plant material due to the cuts and wounds that are caused by the shredding and chopping. Not only are more uniform particles easier to turn in the pile, they also allow for easier chemicals and physical decomposition. A good target size for your organic material is a maximum length of 2 inches.

Moisture and Air In Your Pile

One of the most important elements the organisms that are hard at work in your compost pile need to survive is moisture. Try to attain a moisture content of between 40 and 60 percent by weight. Test your moisture content from several different areas of the pile by grabbing a handful of organic matter and squeezing it. Everything ought to be damp like a wrung-out sponge; If you notice that the compost pile is dryer than this, it is time to add some moisture to the pile.

Too much moisture is as bad as not enough moisture; Air flow will be blocked by too much water and this can result in odors. A good way to gage if you have too much moisture is if you squeeze more than a drop or two of water from your compost material.

If things have been too wet, simply turn the compost pile to introduce air to dry out the wet matter. You can also add moisture at the time of turning if the pile is too dry. There will not be any bad odors from a properly aerated compost pile. Again, if you experience bad odors, you likely have a too high a moisture content. Leaves, straw and sawdust introduce dry carbons to the pile and is another way to reduce excess moisture.

Heat In Your Compost Pile Is Key

As a outcome of the organisms eating, reproducing, and dying in your compost pile, a tremendous amount of heat is generated. Managing this heat will help you produce compost promptly.

Measure the temperature of your compost pile daily with a compost thermometer, to keep track of the heat generation in your pile. Higher temperatures will result in quicker decomposition that do cooler temperatures.

Your temperatures of your compost pile will begin to drop as the supply of food,air and water is used up. To help the temperature rise, mix in newer materials into the center of the pile and add moisture as needed. You will observe that temperatures of between 130 and 140 degrees for a minimum of 72 hours will kill all the weed seeds and plant pathogens.

Composting 101 - Don't Overdo It

To minimize the possibility of too much moisture, which is a bad thing, keep close control on your temperature. Temperatures over 170 degrees Fahrenheit will shut the process down, because the high heat will inhibit the microbe's activity. This can easily be rectified by turning the pile contents down to the pile core, which released stored heat.

So if you want the best, fresh-smelling, organ compost to use in your landscape and garden, simply follow the steps in the Composting 101 Guide.

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