All About Composting

Home composting is one of the most environmentally beneficial activities of modern society. Yard and food wastes make up approximately 50% of all waste in the US.
Composting helps diverting a significant portion of your family’s waste stream from the landfill and water treatment facilities; it is a natural method of recycling organic materials into nutritious soil.

The composting process encourages the production of beneficial micro-organisms (mainly bacteria and fungi) which in return break down organic matter to create humus (a rich nutrient-filled material). It increases the nutrient content in soils and helps soils retain moisture. Compost has also been shown to suppress plant diseases and pests, reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, and promote higher yields of agricultural corps.

Using compost can reduce the need for water, fertilizers and pesticides. It serves as a marketable commodity and is a low-cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting also extends municipal landfill life by diverting organic materials from landfills and provides a less costly alternative to conventional methods of cleaning contaminated soil.

How to compost?

Good composting is a matter of providing the proper environmental conditions for microbial life. Compost is made by billion of microbes that digest the yard and kitchen wastes you provide for them. However, these living microbes need air, water, food and heat. As long as you maintain proper conditions your waste will quickly turn into compost.

AIR:  Composting microbes are aerobic (air needing), without air, anaerobic (non-air needing) microbes take over the pile and though they do cause slow decomposition, they also tend to smell like rotting garbage.  Maintaining air passageways into the pile is essential and can be created by adding straw or wood chips that won’t mat down easily. Frequent turning and breaking down the ingredients will accelerate the process and will break up the mat that may exclude air.

WATER:  Ideally your compost pile should be as moist as a dump towel to insure a good microbial habitat. If your pile is drier, composting will be slowed down. If it is much wetter, on the other hand, the ingredients tend to mat down and exclude air, resulting in a slower and smellier process. Rotting may start.  When using dry ingredients, such as dry leaves or shredded paper, you will need to wet them as you are adding them to the pile.  Conversely, when using wet ingredients like grass clippings, add some dry leaves or straw to absorb some of the moisture.

FOOD:  In broad terms, there are two kinds of food that composting microbes need. Browns and greens.  `Browns` are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown leaves, wood chips, paper bags or shredded cardboard. These are a source of energy for the composting microbes and help promote good aeration, but they tend to be dry, and so brown often need to be moistened before they are add to the pile.  `Greens` are fresh (and often green) plant material, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grinds and tea bags, green leaves and flowers. Greens are high in moisture and have more nitrogen in them, which is critical source of protein for the microbes.

A balance of browns and greens is crucial in creating a successful composting system.

TEMPERATURE:  The temperature of your pile is an important factor for successful compost. As the microbes work on digesting the ingredients in the pile they release heat, the temperature of your pile is determined by the collective body heat releases from billions of microbes.  This temperature may reach as high as 145 F. in the heart of your pile.  

Maintaining a good air flow, moisture, and a good balance of ingredients (Food) will result in a healthy pile that maintains a sufficient temperature for the composting process.

What to compost

Composting material can be divided into two categories ‘green’ and ‘brown’.  A good balance of greens and browns has to be maintained in order to keep the composting process active and efficient.

Green:                                                                       Brown:

            General Kitchen Waste                                     Breads and Cereal

            Fruit and Veggie peels and scraps                     Wood Chips (not Chem treated)

            Egg Shells                                                         Saw Dust (not from pressure treated)

            Coffee Grounds                                                Dry brown leaves

            Tea bags and Coffee filters                                Straw, small dry twigs

            Flowers and Lawn Clippings                             Shredded cardboard & paper

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