Play Your Part - A Home Guide to Composting

Compost is a mixture, generally comprised of decayed and organic matter. Considered humus- like and the most natural form of recycling, compost takes unused and old materials to naturally become a fertilizer. Plants receive nutrients and soil is conditioned for growth within a controlled environment. Compost is biologically active and complex as it is comprised of soil organisms that release nutrients and energy through heat.

Dated back to the Roman Empire in A.D. 23-79, composting became a bit more modernized in the 1920’s within Europe due to Rudolf Steiner who founded the biodynamic method of farming. Early Americans within New England used compost comprised of 10 parts muck mixed with 1 part fish. Up until 1840, compost was considered humus. It wasn’t until Justus von Liebig, a German scientist dismissed humus due to its insolubility within water. Following this discovery, new fertilizing methods came out regularly.

Sir Albert Howard was a British agronomist who created the Indore method of compost in 1905 following a trip to India.  With over 30 years of experimentation within gardening, Howard’s studies later became the book, An Agriculture Testament. Generally used to this day, the Indore method of compost includes 3 times plant matter to 1 part manure, layered and turned during decomposition. 

Ingredients within Compost:

Compost is generally made up of green plant matter and brown materials that contain both carbon and nitrogen elements. Green compost materials include fruit and vegetable remains, coffee grounds, animal waste and even grass clippings. Egg shells are commonly added as well to neutralize acids and kill odors. Brown compost materials are dried and dead leaves, straw, woodworking sawdust and wood chips. Other composing materials include paper products, animal carcasses and wastewater sludge. Compost comprised of natural materials can be created at home or within large bins for business.

Recipe for Quality Compost:

A useable recipe for quality compost would include a combination of both green and brown materials, dirt, water, air and sunshine. Generally compost should include 50-70% brown materials, mixed with 30-50% green material, 0-5% old compost or dirt, light watering and plenty of air with sunshine. Many choose to include more dirt or old compost to increase micro-organisms to speed up the process, though this can dry out the material.

Confirming the compost can breathe well and receive sunshine is vital to a successful batch of compost. Temperature should range between 90-140 degrees Fahrenheit and the pile will naturally increase in heat once all materials are added. If it does not turn humus, be sure to turn the heap. Following proper carbon-nitrogen ratio will produce quality results within the natural compost.

Micro-organisms found in Active Compost:

Micro-organisms inside compost piles use both carbon and nitrogen within the natural ingredients, creating a new material: compost. Carbon elements within the natural ingredients are used as an energy source to breakdown and rebuild a new material. Nitrogen produces microbes which increase and grow using proteins. Generally the C:N ratio is used, or Carbon to Nitrogen ratio to represent and determine proper compost products. Finished compost heaps should average out to 12:1-20:1 and are best ranging from 14:1-18:1.

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