Aerobic Compost – How does it work?
Composting is the decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that enriches soil. It is a process of recycling your kitchen and garden wastes, and is a critical step in reducing the volume of garbage needlessly sent to landfills for disposal.
Composting is not a new idea. In the natural world, composting is what happens as leaves pile up on the forest floor and begin to decay. Eventually, nutrients from the rotting leaves are reclaimed by living roots. This completes nature’s recycling process.
Keep in mind the following basic ideas while managing the waste.
Composting microbes are aerobic – they can’t do their work well unless they are provided with air. Without air, anaerobic (non-air needing) microbes take over the pile. They do cause slow decomposition, but the pile tends to smell like putrefying garbage! For this reason, it’s important to regularly stir your pile.
Some compost ingredients, such as green grass clippings or wet fruits and vegetables, mat down very easily into slimy layers that air cannot get through. Other ingredients, such as straw, shredded paper or dried leaves, are very helpful in allowing air into the centre of a pile. To make sure that you have adequate aeration for your pile and its microbes, thoroughly break up or mix in any ingredients that might mat down and exclude air.
Ideally, your pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to fit the needs of compost microbes. This means that there is a thin film of water coating every particle in the pile, making it very easy for microbes to disperse themselves. If your pile is drier than this, it won’t be very good microbial habitat and composting will be significantly slower. If your pile is a great deal wetter, the sodden ingredients will be so heavy that they will tend to mat down and exclude air from the pile, again slowing the composting process (and perhaps creating anaerobic odour problems).
Fruit and vegetable wastes generally have plenty of moisture, as do fresh green grass clippings and garden trimmings. In hot, dry climates, it may be necessary to water your pile occasionally to maintain proper moisture. If you are using dry ingredients, such as dried leaves or straw, you’ll need to moisten them as you add them to the pile.
In broad terms, there are two major kinds of food that composting microbes need:
‘Browns’ are dry and dead plant materials such as straw, dry brown weeds, leaves and twigs. These materials are primarily composed of chemicals that are long chains of sugar molecules linked together. Browns are a source of carbon and energy for compost microbes.
‘Greens’ are fresh plant materials such as green leaves and garden clippings, kitchen, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc. Compared to browns, greens contain more nitrogen which is a critical element in amino acids and proteins. So greens can be thought of as a protein source for the billions of multiplying microbes.
Browns, tend to be bulky and promote good aeration. Greens, on the other hand, are typically high in moisture, and balance out the dry nature of the browns. A good mix of browns and greens forms the best nutritional balance for microbes. This mix also helps maintain aeration and moisture levels in the pile.
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