The microbiological process that creates compost is the natural
process through which plants and other organic wastes are broken
down. Doing the work of creating compost are worms, insects, fungi,
bacteria, and other microorganisms that help to process dead
The Golden Rule of Composting
Composting is a natural process that will pretty much happen no
matter what. There is no need to obsess over creating a rapid,
robust compost because even a failed compost heap will eventually
succeed. That said, a very effectively created compost heap will
proceed to finished compost much, much more quickly (and can be a
strangely rewarding accomplishment).
For the composting process to occur, oxygen, water, some warmth, and
a good ratio of carbon-based to nitrogen-based materials are
necessary. Fortunately, every one of these materials is abundantly
available and should be essentially free!
Many different compost bins are available, for many different prices
(naturally). In fact, many cities offer conservation incentives
through which they offer bins at highly discounted rates. Which one
should you get? Here’s the beautiful thing – it really doesn’t
matter. You will run into trouble if your bin is too small, but
otherwise, any old container will do. In fact, no container at all
is just fine too! Some of the best compost heaps are just that – a
heap in a corner of the yard with a small enclosure or picket fence
to keep things looking tidy.
The insects and microorganisms that do the work of composting will
come no matter what you do. Fortunately, putting out the right
combination of nitrogen- and carbon- based materials will be like
offering them a free all-you-can-eat buffet. Carbon-based materials
to add to your compost should be available in abundance. These are
the brown materials such as dead grass clippings, leaves, and even
shredded cardboard. Nitrogen-based, or green, materials, can take
the form of fruit peels, green grass clippings, and food wastes
(avoid adding dairy and meat wastes). The ideal ratio for your
compost is about 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, but anywhere in
that neighborhood will work just fine.
The other two ingredients you will need to ensure a speedy process
are water and air. Because the center of your heap will retain a
great deal of water, the compost should not need to be wetted very
often except during dry spells.
Oxygen is introduced by turning the compost (a pitchfork works best)
about once a week, or when the compost slows down.
What (you hope!) Will Happen
If you have built a heap with a good carbon to nitrogen ratio, and
one that’s sufficiently damp and oxygenated, the composting process
should start immediately. After a while (approximately a day), when
the process peaks, the center of your pile will be producing heat
(sometimes a surprising amount of heat!). It is up to you whether
you want to completely compost a batch of wastes and then start
over, or simply add wastes as they become available. When the center
of the pile cools, the process has slowed and it’s probably time to
turn your pile. Repeat until you’ve got nothing left but black gold.
When your compost has been – well – composted – what will remain is
a moist, black, sweet-smelling mulch approximately the consistency
of soggy cardboard. Nature’s most potent fertilizer, compost can be
spread on your flowers, in your garden, on your lawn, and anywhere
else you want healthy, strong plants.
Skip the trash can for some of your waste – six weeks in your
compost heap can break down more material than six years in a
landfill – and the end result is free, natural fertilizer for your
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