Composting 101

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Composting 101

Learn the basics of how the composting process works and how to manage you compost pile for optimal results.

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First it would be helpful to know a few things about composting and how the process works before you jump into it and starting your compost pile.

Mother Nature will take care of most of the processes because she knows what she is doing, even though breaking down of organic matter into compost is quite a complicated endeavor.

So here is a short overview of exactly what will happen in your compost pile, without getting too bogged down in the science of it. We have also listed a few things you should keep track of for optimal results.

Composting 101: The Break Down of the Organic Matter

When your organic matter is breaking down, the term composting is used to describe the process. There are going to be two processes that get your compost broken-down, both physically and chemically.

Composting 101 - Physical Decomposition

The processes is kicked off by a community of hard-working invertebrates by shredding, grinding and chewing larger pieces of plant matter into smaller ones, thus creating much more surface area.

Bacteria and other decomposers do their part during the early stages of the decomposition.

Rich Organic Compost

Composting 101 - Rich, Organic Compost

Composting 101 - Chemical Decomposition

Microbes such as fungi and bacteria will release enzymes that break down the complex organic compounds into smaller ones during this stage of composting.

Nutrients are absorbed into the bodies of the microbes and they themselves become food as the little organisms eat them. The nutrients that the microbes have eaten are released as these microbes die. The end result of this process is humus, which is decomposed materials that are bound together.

This last process takes place as the microbes and other decomposers can't be broken down an longer. This delicate food web is formed by these tiny creatures eating and being eaten in the food chain.

Turn Your Compost Pile

Composting 101 - Maintaining an Optimal Environment Is Essential

Composting 101 - Creating an Optimal Composting Environment

The essence of managing your composting pile is providing an ideal and hospitable living environment for these tiny critters to do the heavy lifting in the process. The basic needs for these critter are very simple. They need air, food, water and a comfortable climatic condition to thrive.

Composting 101 - Chop Chop Chop.

As a general rule the smaller you can make your pieces of material that you place in the compost pile or bin, the faster will be the rate of decomposition.

The cuts and wounds that are made by cutting and chopping of the plant materials make for an easier break-down of the materials by the microbes. The smaller pieces make for a greater surface area, which is easier for chemical and physical decomposition.

Also the smaller and uniform materials are much easier to moisten and turn. Try to limit the size of your organic matter to a maximum length of about 2 inches.

Add Brown Material To Compost

Composting 101

Composting 101 - Moisture and Air

Moisture is one of the prime ingredients that is needed for your organisms to stay hard at work and healthy.

Shoot for about 40 to 60 percent water level by weight as the ideal moisture level.

You can easily determine the moisture level by squeezing a handful of materials from different areas of the compost pile. It should feel like a damp, wrung-out sponge.

If you find that the compost pile is dryer than this, it is time to add some moisture to the pile.

Also, be careful not to add too much moisture as this can be as bad as not enough moisture. This can result in odors and a block of air flow to the pile.

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Things are too wet if you can squeeze a drop or two of water from a handful of the compost.

If things get too wet, simply turn the compost pile to introduce air to dry out the wet matter. If the pile is too dry, it is a good time to add water while you are turning the pile.

You will not have any bad odors from a compost pile that is properly aerated. If you do find that your pile has a bad odor, it is most likely the pile is too moist.

Another option for soaking up excess moisture is to add dry carbon materials like sawdust, leaves, and straw.

Wooden Compost Bin

Composting 101 - Compost Bin

Composting 101 - Turn Up the Heat.

Heat will be generated as a byproduct of the organisms that are hard at work in your compost pile. You can speed up the process of making your compost by properly managing this heat.

Measure the temperature of your compost pile daily with a compost thermometer, to keep track of the heat generation in your pile.

Higher temperatures promote more rapid break-down of the matter. You 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 required.

Temperature ranging between 130 and 140 degrees for a duration of 72 hours will destroy most weed seeds and plant pathogens.

Composting 101 - Don't Overdo It

Be sure to monitor the heat of your compost pile as too much heat can be a bad thing too.

The process will shut down when the temperature exceed 170 degrees and the temperature will inhibit the microbe activity.

If it gets too hot, aerate the pile by turning the core of the pile. This will release excess heat.

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