Mature compost is created by the breakdown of organic waste such as leaves, vegetables, fruits, plants and weeds. It feeds plants, retains moisture, makes weeding easier, helps distribute fertilizer, provides micronutrients and promotes biological activity in the soil. Almost anyone can generate top-quality composted soil quickly and easily in their own backyard. This guide will help you understand the methods of composting and the types of composters available so you can pick the one that works best for your yard.
The easiest way to create compost is just to pile up your organic materials and let them break down. This process can take quite a bit of time, so use compost heaps, bins or tumblers to aid in this process.
- Easiest method of composting; just dump refuse into a pile
- Requires a section of your yard; pick a location down-wind of your home
- Less sterile than enclosed bins
- Takes longest time for breakdown
- Box with air slits on the side; most common design
- Provide protection from animals and pests
- Keep the compost area tidy and contained
- Allow for higher heaping which boosts heat by insulating the core of the pile
- Should be designed so you can easily access and turn the pile
Tip: Set up two bins next to each other so you can always have one bin actively decomposing and the other you can consistently add to
- Cleanest way to compost
- Best choice if you have limited yard space
- Compact and easy to operate
- Produce high-grade compost in less time as you can easily mix the compost
- Smaller than other alternatives and most effective when all material is added at once instead of gradually
Bacteria make up 80 percent to 90 percent of the microorganisms that do the work of breaking down refuse in your compost bin. So while it may seem simple enough to just heap the debris on a pile and wait for it to change into soil, a very complex process needs to happen for the material to break down.
Microorganisms devour the waste on a cellular level creating water, carbon dioxide and the most important ingredient, heat. A healthy compost pile will heat up to about 140 degrees at its core as the microorganisms do their work.
Cold compost is made by piling up materials and letting them break down for a year or two with an occasional turn if possible. It is susceptible to weed and seedling growth which can impede some of the composting process. Cold compost is typically created in compost piles or heaps placed out in the open with no containers.
Hot compost comes from a compost pile constructed with a balance of nitrogen-rich and carbon-rich materials that are turned regularly, at least once every week or two. It is also kept evenly moist with occasional watering. Hot compost becomes very hot to the touch due to the organic breakdowns constantly occurring, killing weed seeds and many disease pathogens.
When the materials are first heaped together in a compost bin or pile, they begin the mesophilic stage. During this time the temperature of the core will begin to rise and microorganisms will start to form colonies and multiply within the pile. The mesophilic stage lasts for less than a week, and during this time you should see your compost "sag," or settle.
The second stage is the thermophilic phase; this stage sees your compost getting up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. When organic materials reach that temperature, seeds from weeds are killed, harmful bacteria die off, and the pile starts to break down rapidly. The thermophilic phase can be assisted by making sure that your compost pile is damp. A popular rule of thumb is that it should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. There should be sufficient air reaching the core of the pile.
Turning the pile once or twice during this stage will help get oxygen to the center, and turning the garden hose on the pile will supply enough water to keep the heat in. This stage can last up to three months depending upon how much attention you pay to the heap, what you are trying to compost, and what sort of bin or pile you are using.
The final stage of composting is known as the cooling stage and this is where the compost matures and the pile settles into a uniform mix. This can take up to four months. Turning occasionally is important, and during this final stage you may want to begin a second compost location and refrain from adding to the near complete one.
Your compost is ready to use when it is a rich brown color, earthy smelling, free of large pieces of debris, and has a crumbly consistency.