By definition, Composting is the purposeful biodegradation of organic matter, such as yard and food waste. The decomposition is performed by micro-organisms, mostly bacteria, but also yeasts and fungi. Composting recycles organic kitchen and yard waste and manures into an extremely useful humus-like, soil end product, permitting the return of vital organic matter, nutrients, and particularly bacteria, that are vital to plant nutrition to the soil.
Composting requires four equally important things to work effectively:
*Carbon or carbohydrates- for energy - the microbial oxidation of carbon produces the heat.
-High carbon materials tend to be brown and dry. Examples include
1. Dry, straw-type material, such as cereal straws and corn stalks
2. Dry leaves, Wood like sawdust, or ground wood waste
*Nitrogen or protein- to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon.
-High nitrogen materials tend to be green and wet. Examples include
1. Green plant material, grass clippings and weeds.
2. Manure from poultry, humans, pets.
3. Kitchen waste
*Oxygen, for oxidizing the carbon, the decomposition process.
*Water- to maintain activity without causing anaerobic conditions. It is important that the compost pile is neither too wet nor dry.
The Recipe for Compost
The best “recipe” for compost in the pile is balance of one part green to two part brown materials. The easiest way to achieve this balance is to add one part green material to the pile, top it with two parts brown material, and mix them together. Continue adding greens and browns until the pile is at least 3 cubic feet (3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft.). This is the standard size of a compost pile because piles of this size heat up quickly and break down faster.
Compost also needs the correct amount of moisture to breakdown. Compost with the right moisture level should feel like a damp, wrung-out sponge. Too much moisture can cause temperatures to fall within the pile. Too little moisture slows down the decomposition rate and keeps the pile from heating up. Check your compost pile's moisture level once a week and adjust it if necessary by adding water to increase moisture or more browns to help dry the pile out.
Use a pitchfork or shovel to turn the pile once a week to move material from the outside of the pile in. Turning also keeps the pile from compacting, which reduces airflow and slows down decomposition. You should have finished compost in about two months. The compost is finished when it no longer heats up and you can't identify any of the original materials. The compost should be dark brown, moist and earthy smelling. Dig finished compost into your garden's soil or use as mulch.
Composting offers the obvious benefits of resource efficiency and creating a useful product from organic waste as well as improving your soil! Which is perfect in this age of reduce, reuse and recycle.