Composting 101: The Nitty Gritty

Let’s review the composting procedure in our Compost 101 Guide, so you can realize what is going on before you leap into a composting project. Making compost utilizes the complex process of breaking down organic matter, but we are fortunate that Mother Nature does most of the heavy lifting work for you on auto pilot. We just act at monitors and managers of the compost pile. We won’t bore you with too much scientific data here, but we will provide a brief overview of the operations that will transpire in your pile and how best to keep things on track.

How Organic Matter Breaks Down In A Pile

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

The First Process Of Physical Decomposition

A community of hard-working little invertebrates get 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.

The Chemical Decomposition Process

Microbes such as fungi and bacteria will release enzymes that break down the complex organic compounds into smaller ones during this stage of composting. The microbes absorb these nutrients into their bodies, and then become food themselves when other organisms eat them. Also, as the microbes dis, their nutrients that they have absorbed will become food as well.

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.

Create The Best Environment For Your Compost Pile

Basically the little microbes do all of the heavy lifting in this process and you are basically monitoring and maintaining an acceptable living environment for them. The basics that these creatures need for survival is what all life on earth need: water, food, air, and a comfortable climate.

Shredding The Organic Matter

Just remember that as a general rule, the smaller you make your organic matter in your compost pile, the quicker you will see results and obtain your compost. 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. Note only are more uniform particles easier to turn in the pile, they also allow for easier chemicals and physical decomposition. Your goal ought to be to keep organic matter in 2 inch long bits and pieces.

Moisture and Air In Your Pile

The organisms hard at work in your compost pile need moisture to survive. Your compost pile should attain between 40 and 60 percent moisture by weight. Select several special areas of your pile and squeeze the compost to determine the moisture level of the compost. If you have the proper moisture levels, your compost should feel like a damp, wrung-out sponge. If it feels dryer than this, then 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.

Time To Turn Up The Heat In Your Compost Pile

Heat will be generated as a byproduct of the organisms that are working hard in your compost pile. Proper management of this heat process will help to produce quality compost much quicker.

Get into the habit of consistently monitoring the temperature of the pile on a daily basis so you can keep the pile at optimal temperatures. Higher temperatures will result in much quicker breakdown of the organic material than do cooler temperatures.

As the supply of food, air, and water is used up, the temperature in your compost pile will drop. Turning or aerating the pile, mixing newer material into the center, and adding moisture will help temperatures rise. Temperatures between about 130 and 140 degrees F. for a total of 72 hours will be required to kill all the weed seeds and plant pathogens in the pile.

Composting 101 – Don’t Overdo It

Be sure to monitor the heat of your compost pile as too much heat can be a bad matter too. 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 follow all of these guidelines in this Composting 101 Guide and the outcome will be incredible, rich compost you can use in your garden and landscape bids.

For more on this composting guide, visit our article Composting 101. Then, for more composting articles and reviews on composting products be sure to visit Green Living Made Easy.

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