Composting Overview

Food waste creates a huge environmental problem. The garbage disposal is one way of solving the problem, although not everyone agrees that garbage disposers are an environmentally friendly solution. The most natural solution is composting.

Composting has several advantages and it is a natural process so you can’t really fail. Compost is made up of decayed and decaying organic matter. It can be used in the garden, it improves soil structure and provides nutrients for plants. Note that it is actually good if not all the material has been completely broken down before it is used in the garden. The material that is still being broken down contains a lot of microbial activity which will benefit the soil.

Obviously, composting is not a viable solution for everyone. But some compost bins can also be used indoors. Since composting is a natural process, you don’t really need much tools or equipment to get started. A compost bin is not absolutely necessary but it will make composting much easier, a bin keeps the compost confined in space. A pitch fork or a shovel is needed, you need to mix things up in your compost pile.

A compost pile may look dead but it is actually full of life. Most of it can’t be seen, most of the organisms at work in a compost pile are microscopic. Composting can be divided into hot and cold composting. Warm composting is much faster than a cold composting. Warm composting can produce humus in less than three months. Cold composting normally needs at least six months before you get useable compost. One advantage of cold composting is that is requires less maintenance than warm composting.

Vermicomposting is a special form of cold composting which uses worms. Vermicomposting is very efficient and clean but not everyone likes worms. The worms don’t need much ongoing maintenance and stay in their compost bin. You can build your own worm compost but most people prefer to buy a set of stackable compost trays. You need to buy worms, the most popular breed is the red wriggler. A red wriggler eats roughly half of its weight each and every day. So if have roughly half a pound of daily food waste, you need one pound of red wrigglers. One pound of red wrigglers is about 1000 worms.

The composting process is done in two ways, chemical and physical decomposition. Chemical decomposition is done by microbes releasing enzymes that break down the organic matter. The physical decomposition takes place early in the early stages and is done by organisms that eat or in other ways break the material into smaller and smaller pieces.

Note that you can’t put all food waste into your compost pile. Dairy products, meat, fish and bones are things you should never put into a compost pile. Of course, you should put more into your compost bin than just food waste, garden waste, including grass clippings, and old newspaper are great for your compost pile. You should try to get about a 50/50 mix of green and brown material in your pile. This formula is easier to apply than trying to keep a 30:1 ratio between carbon and nitrogen. The 30:1 ratio is the diet most of the organisms in a compost pile prefer. Too much carbon will slow down the decomposition. But too much nitrogen is also bad, it will make your pile smell.

Also vermicomposting imposes limitations on what you can put into the compost. Never put any dairy products, meat, grease or oil into a vermicompost. Neither should you feed your worms salt, too much salt makes the worms dry.

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