The Basic Elements of Composting:
Composting microbes need air to multiply and do their work. Some microbes do not need air but they tend to take over the pile and slowly turn it into a putrefying mass of garbage! So by keeping a good air supply, you speed up the process and keep down odor. Leaves, grass and paper tend to mat down and close off air circulation. Shredding the paper first is a good idea and then stirring or tumbling the mixture will help break it up and let air flow.
Your mixture should be as wet as a squeezed sponge to help feed the microbes. Too much water though will mat everything down and stop the air flow. Too dry and it will slow the process down too much. Vegetable and fruit items will add moisture. Things like straw and hay should be moistened before adding to the pile.
There are two basic types of “food” for composting and again a balance is needed. The browns tend to be bulky and are good for aeration. The greens are more moisture-laden and help to moisturize the browns.
- These are dry and dead items such as leaves, twigs, and ashes. Because of their molecular structure, they are a source of energy for the process.
- These are the “live” materials such as fruits and vegetables, green weeds coffee grounds, tea bags. These add nitrogen to the mix and are a protein source for the microbes.
- Many believe that the mixture has to be hot to work. This is only partially true. A compost thermometer will ensure that temperatures at the center of the mix are adequate for proper decomposition. Good aeration, moisture, temperature and brown/green balance all contribute to the success of your compost.
- If you live in a cold climate, don’t worry. The composting process will start back on its own when the weather is warmer. As long as the outside temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit or more it will be processing.
- The larger the pile, the more self-heat generation will take place in the center. Be sure to not overload your system. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations.
- For an in-depth look at other composting variations and methods, see our other learning documents discussing Kitchen Composting, Worm Composting and Compost Tea.