Compost 101: Our Guide to Composting
What is composting?
Composting is the
process of speeding up the natural breakdown of organic matter into
nutritious topsoil with the help of microorganisms like bacteria and
fungi. Composting takes anywhere from two weeks to two years, though
the average time would be from 10 days to four weeks, depending on
the method, equipment and materials used.
Types of composting
composting makes use of the
naturally-occurring bacteria in organic materials. Aerobic
bacteria need oxygen in order to thrive. These are what you want to
have in your compost as they do not emit a foul odor. If the heap has
a rotting garbage smell, that means you have anaerobic
bacteria working away on the compost. This can easily be remedied by
making sure there is enough air circulation in the compost pile by
turning it over.
uses red worms to decompose the organic waste. Chopping or cutting
the waste into small pieces to help speed up the process. Food
scraps, yard waste, dog waste or paper are recommended for this type
of composting. The worms (not your usual backyard/garden variety) eat
the organic waste and drop castings (worm waste) which are very good
soil conditioners. Worm castings are also used to make worm tea,
which is a concentrated liquid composed of nutrients and
microorganisms. You can make worm tea by running distilled water
through the worm castings. When it is poured into the soil, the
microorganisms multiply, creating a healthy growing environment for
See our full line of Vermi-compost bins and supplies.
1. Location, location,
In choosing a location
for composting, you must keep the following in mind: aesthetics and
functionality. It is not a good idea to place your compost pile on
your front lawn, unless you own acres and acres of land with no
neighbors within a five-mile radius. If that's the case, then feel
free to do as you please. For those who own a small piece of
property, it is recommended to place the compost bin in the backyard.
If you don't have a backyard, you can also use your basement.
Ideally, your bin or compost heap should be placed in an area with
good air circulation, good drainage and partial shade. Placing it
near a water source or the garden is also recommended.
The right equipment will
help ensure successful composting. Most compost bins are constructed
of wood, wire or plastic. There are a variety of bins to choose from,
depending on where you decide to do your composting (indoors or
outdoors) and how involved you would like to be in the composting
process. Bins are usually classified into the following:
do not take up a lot of space, making them perfect for people living
in apartments. They are also low maintenance as they do not require
only drawback is that the lack of aeration causes the composting
process to take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years.
are similar to holding units, except that they can be taken apart
and moved. Materials can also be mixed with this type of bin.
Plastic units are available for purchase, or you may construct a bin
using wire or wood.
are designed so that they may be aerated. Also know as Tumbling Composters, or Spinning Compost Bins, Turning units produce
compost faster because they supply oxygen to the bacteria in the
pile. They also have less odor problems, which are associated with
poor aeration. Turning units do require a little more time to build but are becoming increasingly easy to use.
Turning Units come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Like the Elongated Sun-Mar 400 or the spherical EComposter
variety of compost bins to suit your compost location and, more
importantly, your budget can be found in our Compost Bin Category.
If you're not a DIY type
of person or a bin purchase is simply out of the question at this
time, you may also use a compost
heap. A good pile
should measure no less than 3' x 3' x 3'. The space will be
sufficient enough for composting but won't make it too difficult to
Determining how much and
when to add water to your compost pile can be tricky. Too much water
won't decompose the organic waste and make it slimy and smelly. Too
little water will kill the microorganisms breaking down the waste.
A good rule of thumb is the more green waste you put in, the less
water you need to add. If you are backyard composting, and your area
experiences heavy rain, make sure that you have a roof (or even a
tarp) over the pile. This will help prevent nutrients from leaking
out. In general, your compost pile should be moist but not wet.
Oxygen is needed by the
microorganisms responsible for successful composting. Make sure that
the bacteria in your compost gets enough air by turning the pile
often. You may use a pitch fork, spade or compost aerator to mix your
pile. If you are using a turning unit, you just have to pull the
lever and it will mix the pile for you. It is also important that the
contents are turned well so the materials at the edges get moved to
the middle and those in the middle get moved to the edges. Lack of
air slows down decomposition and results in a dense, stinky pile.
composter like the Tumbleweed
Compost Tumbler saves you the
hassle of heavy labor in turning over the contents of your bin and
figuring out the layering process. You also don't have to deal with
leaching issues, as the container holds all the nutrients in place.
This tumbler's unique feature is the breaker bar in the middle which
effectively breaks the contents as they tumble. This ensures proper
distribution of air and moisture which is key for better and faster
you have a tendency to forget things on your to-do list such as
'tumble compost bin every three days', you might want to consider
automatic composters like those from NatureMill.
You just plug it in and the composting begins. It only takes two
weeks before you get your first compost batch.
When microorganisms eat,
they produce heat which helps speed up decomposition. A subtle warmth
means that worms, fungi and bacteria are working hard. When the
majority of decomposition has taken place and the compost is ready,
the compost will feel cool. A compost pile that is working very well
will produce temperatures of 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit.
You may use grass
clippings, banana skins, vegetable peelings, wilted salad greens,
kitchen scraps, wood chips, hay, dried leaves, etc. Avoid anything
that would rot, like meat or dairy (please note, however, the Green Johanna composter do accept meat, chicken, fish). Materials for composting are
generally classified as brown (carbon-rich) or green (nitrogen-rich).
Examples of browns are autumn leaves, coffee filters, tea bags, peat
moss, sawdust, hay and shredded paper. Greens are tea leaves, coffee
grounds, hair, food scraps, egg shells, manure and fresh grass
clippings (to name a few). It is very important to keep a 50-50
balance of browns and greens when composting. Too much browns won't
generate the heat that lets you know that the bacteria is working and
too much greens release an ammonia-like smell. Also make sure to cut
or shred the materials in small pieces for faster decomposition.
Since a compost pile can shrink up to 70% as it breaks down, you can
add materials to it. Just remember not to squash the materials down
as it would squeeze out the air that is inside the pile which is
needed by the resident bacteria.
Some of you might be
happy to know that you can use shredded paper for compost. Others
might have a few concerns, especially with possible biohazards.
According to EPA regulations, the amount of heavy metals in magazines
and newsprints are of background levels and do not pose any real
health and safety risks.
For those with pets, another solution to getting rid of
their waste is by adding it to your compost. Now before start
disagreeing with that statement, please continue reading. Pet waste,
as well as human waste, contain pathogens. As per EPA regulations,
all new waste have to undergo a five-day kill period at at least 131F
to reduce pathogens found in pet waste to a safe level. It is
understandable that nobody would want to continually monitor the
temperature of their compost bins so it's a good thing that there are
products from NatureMill
which simplify this task. Both the NatureMill Pro and Plus Editions feature computer programmed
automatic process for pet and food waste composter which heats to at least 140F.
All that's left for you to do is to drop in any browns, greens and
pet waste. Tumbleweed has a pet poo converter which uses worms to
convert the waste to useful, nutrient-rich compost.
Benefits of compost:
details on our compost products can be found here.
diseases and pests.
Reduce or eliminate
the need for chemical fertilizers.
yields of agricultural crops.
reforestation, wetlands restoration, and habitat revitalization
efforts by amending contaminated, compacted, and marginal soils.
remediate soils contaminated by hazardous waste.
Remove solids, oil,
grease, and heavy metals from stormwater runoff.
Capture and destroy
99.6 percent of industrial volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in
savings of at least 50 percent over conventional soil, water, and
air pollution remediation technologies, where applicable.
As soil amendment
to increase the soil's organic matter. For
best results, apply 1 to 3 inches of compost to the soil surface and
work it in to a depth of about 3 to 4 inches.
As mulch. It
promotes soil moisture
retention, insulates soil from extreme temperatures, and breaks down
to provide nutrients and organic matter for soil structure.
As potting mix. It
is an excellent source of basic nutrients for your plants and offers
good water retention.
As potting tea.
Compost tea acts as a mild liquid fertilizer, which is ideal for
indoor or container-grown plants.
can be found at: