When we talk about compost, we simply refer to the decomposed organic material. Compost consists of materials such as leaves, kitchen scraps, and twigs, e.t.c. Gardeners value compost a lot due to the benefits compost gives to their garden plants.
To the environment, Compost is an excellent material for garden soil. Clay soils become easier to work on when compost is added. Adding compost to sandy soils helps in improving the water holding capacity of the soil.
Compost improves the overall plant growth and health. When you are thinking of a good way to recycle leaves and other yard waste, think of compost. You can make your own compost at home and save the money that could have been spent on purchasing the compost.
What is Composting process?
Composting processes are recommended steps involved in the biological decomposition of organic matters. These are processes that organic materials follow before becoming composting.
Difference between Composting Process and Composting Methods
Composting Methods are methods you need to follow to produce compost as a gardener. This involves collecting kitchen and garden waste, setting up compost bins or piles, arranging or alternating green and brown materials in the Composting bin or pile, turning your compost, and so on.
On the other hand, composting processes involve steps in the biological breakdown of organic materials into compost.
The Composting Process
There are four main components in the composting process which are:
1# Collecting organic materials
You can compost almost any organic material, such as fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags, grass clippings, leaves, flowers, and small branches.
However, you should avoid meat, dairy, bones, fats, oils, diseased plants, weeds, pet waste, and anything that contains chemicals or metals. These materials can attract pests, cause odors, or contaminate your compost.
2# Building a compost pile or bin
You can choose from various methods and containers to make your compost pile or bin. The most common ones are open piles, wire bins, wooden bins, plastic bins, tumblers, and worm bins.
The size and shape of your compost pile or bin depend on the amount of space and materials you have. Ideally, you want a pile or bin that is at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet (1 cubic yard) to maintain enough heat and moisture for decomposition.
3# Maintaining the compost pile or bin
To speed up the composting process and ensure good quality compost, you need to maintain the right balance of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and moisture in your compost pile or bin. Carbon-rich materials are brown and dry, such as leaves, straw, paper, and wood chips.
Nitrogen-rich materials are green and moist, such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and manure. A good ratio of carbon to nitrogen is about 30:1. You also need to turn or mix your compost pile or bin regularly to aerate it and distribute the heat and moisture evenly.
Finally, you need to keep your compost pile or bin moist but not soggy by adding water or dry materials as needed.
4# Harvesting the compost
The composting process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the method and materials you use. You will know your compost is ready when it looks dark brown, crumbly, and earthy-smelling.
You can then sift out any large or unfinished materials and use your compost as a fertilizer or soil amendment for your plants.
Composting is a rewarding and beneficial activity that anyone can do at home. By following these simple steps, you can turn your organic waste into a rich and natural fertilizer for your garden.
Organic materials used for compost needs to have a mixture of brown organic materials such as dead leaves, twigs, etc and green organic materials such as grass clippings, etc.
The brown materials are a source of carbon and the green materials serve as a source of nitrogen. The materials should be shredded into smaller pieces to help in speeding up the composting process.
If the piles have mostly brown material, add a handful of commercial 10-10-10 fertilizer. The fertilizer will supply nitrogen which will help to speed up the composting process.
Bacteria, as well as other microorganisms, are very important in the composting process. By supplying organic materials, water, as well as oxygen, the already present bacteria will cause a breakdown of the plant material into useful compost for the garden.
As the bacteria decompose the materials, heat is released. This heat is then concentrated in the centre of the compost pile.
For the moisture, ensure it is always adequate as moisture is essential to support the composting process. A compost with little or inadequate moisture will be regarded as dry and so, the materials will just decompose slowly.
However, the moisture level also, must not be too high. If you end up adding excess water to the pile, just turn the pile and mix the materials ref5. Also, you could add dry, brown organic materials.
This is required to support the breakdown of plant material by bacteria. To add oxygen to your compost pile, turn the compost pile for materials at the edges to be brought to the centre of the pile.
For complete composting and controlling odour, always turn the pile. To turn the pile, wait for at least two weeks before carrying out the process. This will give room for the centre of the pile to heat up and decompose.
How long does Composting Process take?
This is dependent on certain factors which are explained below:
Type of Materials
A compost pile that has more brown materials may take longer to compost. In such cases, you can speed up the process by adding more green materials, or perhaps, fertilizer with nitrogen.
Size of the Compost Pile
To achieve efficient composting, use a pile that is between 3 feet cubed and 5 feet cubed. The main advantage of this is that it allows the centre of the pile to heat up sufficiently to break down materials.
This doesn’t mean smaller piles can’t be made but using smaller piles will take longer to produce finished compost.
Surface Area of the Materials
This has certain effects on the time required for composting. You can increase the surface area of these materials by shredding, chipping, e.t.c and increasing the surface area of materials will help the bacteria to break down the materials faster into compost.
Number of times of turning the Compost Pile
This influences the speed of the composting process. You may turn every 2 – 4 weeks to produce compost more quickly.
When turning the compost pile, ensure that the materials in the centre are dragged to the outside and those outside are pushed to the centre.
It is necessary to turn your compost frequently and with frequent turning, your compost can be ready in about 3 months.
Commercial Composting Processes
Commercial composting processes involve large-scale operations designed to efficiently turn organic waste, such as food scraps, yard waste, and agricultural residues, into nutrient-rich compost.
These processes often use controlled environments, turning equipment, and carefully managed ratios of carbon-rich (e.g., leaves, straw) and nitrogen-rich (e.g., food waste, manure) materials to accelerate decomposition.
Temperature, moisture, and aeration levels are closely monitored to ensure effective composting. The resulting compost can be sold to agricultural or landscaping markets.
Aerobic Composting Processes
Aerobic composting is a process that relies on the presence of oxygen to break down organic matter. In this method, organic materials are mixed and regularly aerated to maintain oxygen levels.
The aerobic microorganisms, like bacteria and fungi, thrive in this oxygen-rich environment, leading to efficient decomposition.
Temperature management is essential in aerobic composting to ensure that it reaches thermophilic (high-temperature) conditions, which speed up the breakdown of organic matter. This method is commonly used in backyard compost bins and large-scale composting facilities.
Cattle Manure Composting Processes
Cattle manure composting involves the conversion of cattle waste into valuable compost. This process typically begins by mixing cattle manure with a carbon source, like straw or sawdust, to achieve a balanced carbon-to-nitrogen ratio.
Regular turning and aeration are important to provide oxygen to the microorganisms responsible for decomposition and to prevent odor issues. Properly composted cattle manure can be used as a nutrient-rich soil amendment in agriculture.
Cold Composting Processes
Cold composting, also known as passive composting, is a slower method of decomposition that doesn’t rely on high temperatures.
In this process, organic materials are stacked in a pile or bin and allowed to decompose naturally over an extended period, often several months to a year.
It requires less active management and is suitable for those who don’t need compost quickly. Cold composting is ideal for less nitrogen-rich materials like leaves, grass clippings, and woody debris.
Anaerobic Composting Process
Anaerobic composting occurs in the absence of oxygen and relies on anaerobic microorganisms to break down organic matter.
This method typically involves sealing organic materials in a container or pit, creating an oxygen-depleted environment.
While anaerobic composting can effectively decompose organic waste, it tends to produce unpleasant odors and greenhouse gases like methane.
It is less common than aerobic composting but can be an option for certain waste streams when managed properly, such as in biogas production systems.
Compost can be used in farmyards and as mulch around flower beds, vegetable gardens, and even, around trees or shrubs in landscape beds.