COMPOSTING INTRODUCTION PAGE

Oh Hum - here's another 'run-of-the-mill composting site...

Oh yeah? Think again...

This is the FIRST and ONLY composting instruction site that is authored by a soil/plant microbiologist specializing in COMPOST.

So on this site, I provide more than just the 'basics' of composting, and try not to get 'overly technical' - and understand that my audience is wanting MORE than the 'basic' rhetoric found on most other sites - even the college/university sites. Information is good, but ONLY if you ALSO learn how to put that information into PRACTICAL use in YOUR composting efforts.

First - composting is FOR gardening - but IS NOT GARDENING activity. Composting is ranching. ~ Ranching? Yup. Raising ‘ANIMAL livestock’ that eat organic material - including pasture grass - but only when that grass is inside a compost pile. Think “micro-herd”.

As a scientist/researcher', I can get more 'technical' about this than you'd be able to comprehend - but that's not myy objective. I'll attempt to present a non-technical perspective of the SCIENCE behind composting. I know PRECISELY how aerobic microbes make compost and what it takes to make the HIGHEST QUALITY compost in the SHORTEST time using the EASIEST methods to accomplish those goals.

So what commercial composters take up to 12 MONTHS to accomplish - I train composters to accomplish in 12 WEEKS - (52 divided by 12 = 4.3 times faster) - with a MUCH higher quality result.

What is the definition of QUALITY? Start with TILTH (or FRIABLITY) - sometimes referred to as "crumbliness". Then there's the 'sweet, earthy' aroma akin to a forest floor - produced by microbes called actinomycete (now called 'actinobacteria') that a composter should attempt to increase in the community. Moisture retention capacity is another measure of quality - that is developed by ensuring that the variety of feedstocks is correctly used. How much NUTRIENT CYCLING is going on - to make IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE food for plants - depends on whether the FULL microbial community exists in it. And am not referring to the 'total' fertilizer in the compost material that 'soil tests' present - but rather how much Macro/Micro/Trace nutrients are PRESENTLY AVAILABLE to plants - which is mostly determined by how the compost pile has been MANAGED through the various stages of development. See, it really doesn't matter how much TOTAL nutrients the compost contains. But this is an INTRODUCTORY page - so we'll leave further details regarding compost quality for later...

Composting is solely a HUMAN activity, designed to ‘manage’ Mother Nature’s MICROBIOLOGICAL system of decomposing organic material into organic MATTER - at which point one cannot tell what you're looking at was a leaf, a piece of grapefruit rind, or a small stick. When you CANNOT TELL what a given original feedstock item was - THEN you can consider the compost is capable of providing sufficient nutrients to sustain a plant. Until then - if you use earlier compost stages in your garden - you will still need to supplement plant nutrient needs - with organic fertilizers, of course (not synthetic chemicals that harm the microbes that you depend on to make compost 'happen'). Please don't "shoot yourself in the foot" by using Miracle Gro - use IMPACT brand instead (which I sell, of course...).

Basically, composting requires five (5) major things:

  1. Collection of a VARIETY of Feedstocks (food for microbes) and processing/arranging that material in a certain way
  2. Air (for aerobic composting) - specifically the value of FREE oxygen content
  3. Water (the medium in which microbes live) - and the quality of water DOES make a difference!
  4. Time (whatever you have available)
  5. Effort (your energy)

Microorganisms are not included in the list above, because Mother Nature has already provided them. However, making the 'right' microbes MULTIPLY quickly - is the key.

The last two things - your time and effort - are the most important. To the degree you ACTIVELY MANAGE a pile - to THAT degree your compost pile will result in producing quality garden-ready Organic MATTER. And that's generally the stage a composter 'shoots for'.

BUT - the answer to EVERY composting question is always: "DEPENDS".

EXAMPLE: When is using UNstable-to-STABLE (1st turn) compost a good idea?

YES - you CAN incorporate UNstable-to-STABLE (cannot heat-up anymore - to a temperature that would be harmful for plant roots - into your garden with shovel or tiller BEFORE YOU PLANT - and it will continue to decompose - but at a MUCH SLOWER RATE than it would if you had left it in a pile for a longer period of time.

SECOND EXAMPLE: if a winter 'blast' is forecast earlier than expected - and you are facing the probability of a plant-damaging FROST - then BY ALL MEANS get first-turn UNstable-to STABLE compost SIDE-DRESSED ONto (NOT INto) the garden dirt that WILL bring warmth to the root zone of plants - and COVER the plants with some type of 'row cover' - so the compost ON the ground will ALSO keep the UPPER plant parts also safe through the frost period.

Below are listed the 'normal' STAGES that compost goes through - which will be explained in later sections:

  1. New-Build ~ HOT Pile Management
  2. UNstable-to-STABLE (after 1st Turn)
  3. Stable-to-FINISHED (after 2nd Turn)
  4. Finished-to-MATURE (after 3rd Turn)
  5. Mature-to-AGED (after 4th Turn)
  6. AGED+ (5th+ Turns)

FEEDSTOCK

If it was alive – and is now dead (or recently harvested) – it can be composted. Period - NO exceptions. Saprophytic (look up that word online) microbes can ‘eat’ it because ALL Organic material is CARBON-based. With few exceptions, INORGANIC material does not contain carbon. BUT - I do not recommend that a beginner composter attempt to try using ROAD KILL as a feedstock (that's covered in the Advanced course). ~

Microbes produce ENZYMES that dissolve (solublize) dead and decaying organic material. That’s Mother Nature’s system 'in a nutshell'. The end result of microbial activity is to change the molecular structure of the material - and the CARBON they consume is first converted into ENERGY to power their activity.

Microbes 'reconstruct' the molecules that make up your feedstock variety - to extract the NITROGEN necessary to make microbe cells for the purpose of reproduction.

When talking about Feedstock VARIETY, I'm referring to the Carbon-to-Nitrogen (C:N) Ratio - to achieve a BALANCE of both Carbon and Nitrogen that microbes need to proliferate.

The actual C:N ratio of any material can be determined in a laboratory using special equipment - expensive. But C:N ratio is very difficult to determine accurately “in the field”, even using some of the 'cheat-sheets' found on the Internet - which can be WAY off - because nitrogen is volatile (is lost in air and water) - so AGE of a given feedstock has a LOT to do with accurately ESTIMATING the combined C:N of a total feedstock variety based on the quantity of each feedstock being used.

So for beginners, there’s a lot of guess-work involved in composting - UNLESS you understand the SCIENCE behind what happens in a compost pile - which the vast majority of composting sites on the Internet - DON'T TELL YOU. So if you compost by the 'seat of your pants' - its strictly an ART FORM. To the extent that you DO know the science behind what you're doing - then YOUR method of composting can be called a “Science-based Art form”.

Composting is simply a MANAGED human method to speed up (by 100x+ times) the normal decomposition of organic material (OM) - to turn it into organic MATTER which produces organic plant food. In the process, the microbes consume EACH OTHER - and expel the digested 'poop' from their cells - which has been converted into nutrients IMMEDIATELY available for plants. Very simple: organic plant food is MICROBE POOP. The more microbes in your pile consuming the right feedstock variety - the more high-quality microbe poop your compost pile will produce - and the more productive your plants will be.

AIR

Air contains oxygen - necessary for aerobic microbes to remain active/viable (alive). Not enough oxygen? Then bacteria stop working and go dormant - and fungi and protozoa produce reproductive 'spores' before they die. ~

WATER

H2O is two molecules of hydrogen bonded together with one molecule of oxygen. Absolutely necessary for aerobic microbiology to remain active and reproduce. They can live in a water 'biofilm' that is only a few molecules of water thick.

And most all fresh (as in not stagnant) water has some dissolved oxygen in it – simply because of DIFFUSION and the amount of Dissolved Oxygen (DO) in water is VERY IMPORTANT to microbial propagation ability. Aerobic microbes (with very few exceptions) CANNOT BREAK the H20 molecular bond to get that one molecule of oxygen. FREE (dissolved) oxygen MUST be available in the water (between H20 molecules).

In contrast, ANaerobic composting uses microbes that don’t need free oxygen(air) to break down organic material - but use 'sulfur' compounds instead. So anaerobic composting can be a smelly process and takes longer than aerobic composting usually does. But it’s a valid composting process – finishes like the 'muck' found at the bottom of the old ‘swimming hole’.

Smelly’ is a negative thing - and is referred to as ODOR by composters - in contract to a good smell which is termed an AROMA. ODOR is the result of producing gasses (such as hydrogen sulfide [rotten eggs odor] and methane [explosive]. IF your AEROBIC compost has ODOR - then you're doing something wrong - most commonly putting food waste too close to the surface of a Continuous-Add (CA) pile - so putrefaction microbiology are active - instead of aerobic decomposition microbes.

TIME

The life cycle of a microbe is measured in minutes. On average, only about 15 minutes. Time is what makes aerobic composting different. Faster results than normally occurs naturally underground or water. By ‘managing’ Mother Nature’s process, finished compost takes only a few months, instead of years.

EFFORT/Energy

This is what makes the real difference. The way that organic materials are combined (usually in layers). Composting simply supplies a mixture of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in an intended ratio of about 40-to-one (40:1).

So composting is very much about C:N ratio. A COMBINED FEEDSTOCK RATIO higher than about 35:1 does not decompose as well as a lower COMBINED ratio in the 35:1 range.

But the COMBINED feedstock ratio of total pile material should also not be less than 20 parts Carbon to one part of Nitrogen (Total C:N = 20:1). That's why composters MUST learn to combine BROWN (high-carbon) material with GREEN (high nitrogen) materials within a TARGET RATIO. On the other hand, composters use the materials they have available, which is more 'browns' than greens - which is where kitchen scraps (cooked and not cooked) become quite important - BUT kitchen scraps MUST be handled in a certain way - or you'll have an ODOR issue to contend with...

You can learn a lot more 'in depth' composting methodologies on this site than you can on most others - but it will take some time to 'ferret-out' the FREE information you seek.

On the other hand, you will also read about my Composting COURSES - which do require a subscription fee - but even so, are the FASTEST, most EFFICIENT method of learning - particularly since the software used to construct the training modules is the finest in the world - the ONLY one that utilizes RUBICS to ascertain what you need to study to pass the tests and achieve the Certifications.

© Robert C. Moore ~ All Rights Reserved

COMPOST CONTAINMENTS
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COMPOST PILES
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