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Registered: 08/11/99
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Composting * 1
    #2524559 - 04/04/04 03:39 PM (14 years, 1 month ago)

It's that time of year to get things going outside and what a better time than now to start a compost pile if you don't already have one.

What is composting?

Composting is a deliberate activity by gardeners aimed at accelerating what occurs naturally - rotting, or the decomposition of organic matter. Typical mineral soil consists of about 5% organic matter. Organic matter affects both the physical and chemical properties of soil. It improves the aeration and moisture retention of the soil and, through gradual dcompositoin, releases both major and minor nutrient elements into the osil for plant use. Composting in effect is organic matter recycling. In the soil, compost acts like a source of slow release fertilizer, in addition to its desirable influence on the physical characteristics of soil.

Principles of composting

To be successful at composting, one needs to understand the underlying science of the biological processes involved. Composting involves both biotic and abiotic factors, the essential ones being decomposers, organic material (plant or animal - don't cremate or burry fido, throw him in the compost pile  :wink:), environmental factors for growth of the decomposers, and time over which decomposition occurs.

-Are agents that convert organic matter into compost through process of decopmosition.

-Microorganisms- The major microorganisms - or microbes - involved in decomposition are bactgeria, fungi, and actinomycetes.

-Macroorganisms- The major macroorganisms include earthworms, grubs, and insects. These groups of organisms should be provided the appropriate environmental factors for their growth and development in order to have large enough populations to work effectively in the compost pile. Microbes have four basic requirements for growth:

  • Source of energy.  Microbes obtain energy from the carbon inorganic materials. Plant materials differ in their carbon content, and thus proper materials must be selected for the compost pile.
  • Source of protein.  THe protein source for microbes is the nitrogen from materials such as blood meal, manure, and green vegetation. Protein is required in only small amounted.
  • Oxygen. Aerobic microbes (which use oxygen for respiration) are more effective and efficient decomposers than anaerobic microbes (which do not use oxygen for respiration). As such, a compost pile should be well aerated. When a pile is poorly aerated and thus dominated by anaerobic bacteria, the decomposition process produces nasty odors.
  • Moisture.  Moisture is required by organisms for metabolism, but excess mositure in the compost pile fills up the air spaces and creates anaerobic conditions.

There are three groups of bacteria that will operate in succession within the compost pile. Psychrophiles will dominate the early life of the compost pile while the temperature is still relatively low. These microbes can even act at temperatures below freezing though their optimal temperatures are 55F or 12.8C. As the heap ages and the temperature increases within the heap between 70 and 90F or 21.1 and 32.2C mesophiles become active. Mesophiles are the workhorses of composting. However once the temp reaches ~100F or 37.8C they are replaced by thermophiles. These bacteria raise the heat to a much higher level reaching a peak temperature of about 160F or 71.1C.

After bacteria have operated on the organic matter, cellulose, lignin and other hard-to-metabolize substances are left behind in the pile. Fungi and actinomycetes are able to decompose these substances. When one sees cobweb like mycelium permeating the heap the fungi and actinomycetes are starting their work.

Larger microorganisms such as earthworms are important in the ocmpost heap. They feed on organic matter and excrete materials rich in nutrients for plant growth. Earthworms are abundant in soils that have high microbial activity.

Compostable Material

The quality of the compost depends in part on the materials included in the compost heap. The secret to quality is variety. Avoid including too much of one type of material. Good compostable materials include:
  • Grass clippings from mowing a lawn.  A mulching mower may be used to spread fine clippins on the soil. When the clippings are bagged, they may be used as a good source of plant material for composting, provided a few cautions are observed. Do not use clippings from a lawn that has been recently sprayed with pesticides. A fresh pile of grass clippings has a tendency to form a slimy and soggy product with a nasty stench. It is best to spread grass clipping sin thin layers or to mix them in with dry leaves.
  • Household garbage that lacks fats and oils.  Greasy materials are hard for microbes to metabolize.
  • Leaves.  Dry leaves may be gathered for use in composting during the fall season. Leaves decompose slowly and need some help to acelerate their breakdown. Instead of using full-size leaves, they should be chopped before adding them to the compost pile. Leaves should be added in thin layers.
  • Sawdust.  Sawdust from softwoods, pine, and cedar decompose more quickly than those from hardwood(e.g., birch and oak). When including sawdust, it should be sprinkled lightly and in layers like the other materials.
  • Straw or hay.  Old (very weathered), not fresh, hay makes a good compost material. Straw or hay should be chopped before adding to the pile.
  • Ash.  Wood ash from the fireplace contains potash and is a good material to include in the heap.

Materials to avoid

Some materials are undesirable in a compost heap because they either are not biodegradable or produce toxic factors that are harmful to microbes. These include:
  • Diseased plants.  All pathogens may not be killed by the heat generated, even at the peak temperature.
  • All nonbiodegradable material (e.g., plastics, synthetic cloths, and styrofoam).
  • Pesticides.  Pesticides should not be used under any circumstance because they destroy the decomposers.
  • Pet litter.

Other materials should be used with caution. For example, the plant remains from corn harvest, including cobs and husks, are hard to decompose. If they must be added, they should first be chopped into small pieces.

The Carbon to Nitrogen Factor

The carbon to nitrogen (C:N) factor is a measure of the material's relative proportion of carbon to nitrogen. The higher the value, the lower the nitrogen content and the longer it takes to decompose. A C:N ratio of 30 is best for composting. Straw has a C:N ratio of 80, while sawdust has a ratio of 400. Materials of lguminous origins have a low C:N ratio (about 15). While a high C:N material decomposes slowly, using materials of lowC:N ratio produces excess nitrogen that is expelled from the heap as ammonia.

Compost Activators

There are natural and artificial compost activators.

Natural Activators

  • Loamy soil.  THe decaying organic component of a loamy soil contains soil microbes.
  • Compost.  For the person who composts frequently, finished compost from a previous pile may be used to innoculate a fresh heap.
  • Protein meal.  Protein meal may be derived from high-protein plant material such as alfalfa and cotton seed. ANimal sources include fish meal, bone meal, and blood meal.
  • Manure.  Manure from a variety of farm animals including poultry, cattle, and sheep is a good activator. However it should not be used fresh, since it is safest when well decomposed. Manure may be decomposed by allowing the fresh substance to sit exposed to the weather for several weeks. Unfortunately, manures often contain weed seeds, which could be a problem if the composting process does not reach the peak temperatures required to kill weed seeds.

Artificial Activators
  • Fertilizers.  Fertilizers are less efficient than natural activators because they lack protein. Compound sfertilizers consisting of N-P-K (10:10:10) may be used.
  • Inoculant.  Commercial prepared dormant bacteria and fungi that are packaged as tablets or granules may be used.

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Re: Composting [Re: neuro]
    #2524645 - 04/04/04 04:00 PM (14 years, 1 month ago)

Composting Systems

Methods of composting are varied and adaptable to one's needs and situation, once certain general guidelines are observed. There are designs for small-cale and indoor use, and others for large-scale and outdoor production of compost. THey also vary in terms of ease of aeration, cost of setup and maintenance, time to completion, quality of product, and odor. The two types of compost systems are categorized on the basis of the receptacle.

No-container method (Sheet Composting)

The most direct way of composting is to use in situ compsting, in which the plant material is composted in the soil where it will be used. The material used may include leaves, plant residue after the harvesting, grass clippings, and manure hauled onto the field. These materials are incorporated into the soil using a spade or a tiller. Another version of this method, called green manuring, involves the growing of leguminous species, such as clover, alfala, peas and soybean and plowing them under while still fresh.

Sheet composting allows organic materials to be applied to large fields. A negative side of this method is that it takes several months for the incorporated material to decompose.

Container Methods
Gardeners also compost in containers or pits. These ex situ methods of composting follow certain recipes, depending on the design. The compost is prepared in one place and trasported to another for use.


Since one is encouraged to use a wide variety of materials in a compost pile, the way they arrange in the pile is important. Materials are not haphazardly mixed up in the pile but rather are placed strategically in layers. For example, layers of dry materials usch as straw should be alternated with fresh manterials such as clippings and vegetative matter. Materials high in nitrogen (low C:N) should be alternated with high-carbon (high C:N) material. After a number of layers, the activator should be spread evenly before another set of material is added. This pattern is repeated until the container is filled.

Moisture Supply

Water is required by microorganisms for decomposition. TOo much of it may cause anaerobic conditions to develop in the pile, while too little slows decomposition. Efforts should be made to provide moisture uniformly throughout the pile, accomplished by moistening the material layer by layer as it is being piled and as needed. A well-moistened compost heap material feels as moist as a wet sponge that has been wrung. Overwatering a compost pile is a waste of water and also causes leaching of nutrients. Rain water is ideal for watering since it contains useful microorganism, minerals, and oxygen.

Size of Pile

An effective pile size is one that is manageable and self-insulating without causing compaction in the layers. A large pile may cause overheating and anaerobic conditions to prevail in the inner part, a situation that is detrimental to bacteria. A small pile, on the other hand may be overventilated and thu snot be able to reach peak temperatures; it may also require artifical insulation. Since a pile should be turned over regularly, a huge pile may be unmanagable.


A compost heap should be well ventilated for good growth of aerobic bacteria. A pile may be built around ventilation pipes or a tube of wire mesh. Such a practice may be necessary in methods where the pile is left unturned or turned infrequently.

Constructing Outdoor Composting Systems

Two critical factors to consider in constructing an outdoor composting unit are location and container type and design.

The compost site should be near the garden or a place where it is easy to manage. The pile should not be allowed to dry out, so locatin git in the shade in tropical areas is desirable. In the temperate zone, however, sunlight is required to keep the heap warm. It is wise to locate the heap so that the house is not downwind from it; in the case of poor decomposition, the nasty stench will not blow into the house with the wind. The site should be well draining.

Container Design

Containes or retaining walls may be constructed out of a wide variety of materials including blocks, plastic, wood, and even baled straw. On a well drained location, the ground may be used as the bottom wall of the container. The Advantage of using bare earth for the bottom of the container is the natural decomposers in the soil have the opportunity to act on the material in the pile. Wooden and wire bins are also used. Since wood is biodegradable, a wood preserver or latex paint coatingrduces the danger of its decomposition. Wire bins are well ventilated and as such lose heat rapidly. Barrrels, drums, tumblers, and plastic bins may be used as containers for composting.

Composting in a concrete pit
Soil + Manure =Activator

Composting directly on the ground

Composting in a Wire Basket

Compost Tumbler

Pit Composting
Pit composting is simply burying the composting materials in a pit dug in the soil until they decompose. When ready (which may be up to a year), the compost may be dug up and used elsewhere or left in place and crops planted in it. The container in this case is the earth. A variation of this method is trench composting, in which the material is buried in long trenches. Once decomposed, the trench is used as a bed for growing crops, while the adjacent row separated by a path is then dug up as a new trench for composting. The compost trench becomes a walkway before it is used for growing crops, thus giving the material two years to decompose properly.

Indoor Compost Systems
Yes, you can even compost indoors. Indoor compost systems are portable and can be readily located and relocated in smal areas such as a garage. Small scale composters with worms as the principle decomposers are used to decompose kitchen garbage. Their success depends on a large extent on protecting the worms from exposure to extreme temperatures.

Maintaining Compost Piles

Turn Regularly
Turning the compost heap frequently is a tedious but worthwhile chore since it quickens the rate of decompositoin. Home composters may turn their heaps less frequently (ever 6 to 12 weeks), unless a stench develops earlier. In turnin gfrequently, one should be careful to do it each time after peak temperature has been attained in the pile (to kill weed seeds). Turning too frequently, however is detrimental to the activity of the decomposers.

Keep Aerated

Aeration is accomplished by turning the heap or poking it. Poor aeration encourages the development of a bad odor.

Keep Moist

It is best to moisten the pile after each layer is added. If watering becomes necessary later on, it should be done very carefully to avoid creating anaerobic conditions in the pile. If the pile is generally damp and warm only on the inside, the pile size may be too small. In this case, it must be rebulit on a larger scale.

Control Weeds

Weeds should not be allowed to grow on a compost heap since they deprive the pile of moisture and nutrients being produced through mineralization of the organic matter.

Maintain Heat

A "young" compost heap should heat up quite rapidly. If it remains cool, the nitrogen level in the pile may be low. This factor may be remedied by poking holes in the pile and adding nitrogen source (e.g., fresh manure or blood meal). Lack of heat may also be due to low mositure ocntent; water may thus be added through holes poked in a dry pile. Sometimes a cool pile may simply indicate that it is time to turn it or that the compost process is complete.

A successful composting operation depends on the use of compostable material, good activators, proper layering of materials in the pile, and good management of the compost pile in terms of aeration, moisture supply, and temperature.

Happy Composting.

Next time we'll discuss pocket mulching, the process of producing compost in ones own pants pockets.

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Re: Composting [Re: neuro]
    #2525977 - 04/04/04 11:53 PM (14 years, 1 month ago)

how cool of a document guys, i think this topic has never been covered by a thread before that i've seen.
my plants seem to love my compost, i use organic garbage from the kitchen and grass clippings, leaves, whatever is good for the compost in my pit...
i'm yet to try it with mushies.
sometimes i like to add supermarket soil to the compost (i find straight supermarket soil to be so poor on nutes), to bulk things up. and i don't care about sprouting seeds, they're mostly tomatoes or papayas. easy to pick off as soon as germinated.
i pick them and after they die, they come back to the compostarium. =)


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Re: Composting [Re: felixhigh]
    #2528953 - 04/05/04 08:53 PM (14 years, 1 month ago)

i added this to the Useful links of the EG Faq, so i'll unsticky it.

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Re: Composting [Re: neuro]
    #17236764 - 11/17/12 07:34 PM (5 years, 5 months ago)

maybe you could add into the types of composting descriptions of larger scale composting like invessel and such.


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Re: Composting [Re: neuro]
    #17239395 - 11/18/12 10:15 AM (5 years, 5 months ago)

:bow2:  :dancer: 

Thank you for compiling this information! I have been thinking about it recently, And now i have a place to start :thumbup:

I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass, but rather learning to dance in the rain.

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Money-The root of all evil....
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Re: Composting [Re: PlantEntity]
    #17239421 - 11/18/12 10:26 AM (5 years, 5 months ago)

8yrs 7months.....:strokebeard3:

Peace Pot Micro-Dot God Loves You High or Not!!!
In order to grow old and wise, you must once have been young and dumb!

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Re: Composting [Re: jboredone]
    #17240858 - 11/18/12 03:46 PM (5 years, 5 months ago)

all i'm saying is composting is making something everyone should be doing. this should be stickied.


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Re: Composting [Re: theonlysun81]
    #17240916 - 11/18/12 03:54 PM (5 years, 5 months ago)

It is sticky'd... well linked to in a sticky

It's in the USEFUL, INFORMATIVE & INTERESTING POSTS/LINKS by Cactusdan on the top of The Ethnobotanical Garden Thread



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Re: Composting [Re: modern.shaman]
    #17241942 - 11/18/12 06:43 PM (5 years, 5 months ago)

oh well than jboredone, don't bitch  that it got bumped.


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Amazon Shop: Scales

Mushrooms, Mycology and Psychedelics >> The Ethnobotanical Garden

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