Compostable material makes up 28% of the solid waste generated in the United States. Gardeners should consider the benefits, to both their garden and waste management, in creating a compost pile! Many organic materials such as grass clippings, branches and twigs, and eggshells may be composted into a nutrient rich humus-like substance that may be incorporated into the natural soil.
Compost that is incorporated into the soil increases organic matter, root growth, moisture, and aeration. It can also be applied to the surface of soil to control weeds, reduce erosion, and stabilize the temperature of soil. In this controlled process, compost allows the decomposition and transformation of biodegradable material. There are two main types of composting - Hot (fast) composting and Cold (slow) composting.
Hot composting requires a balance of organic materials, moisture, and oxygen to support microorganisms. This pile will reach temperatures of 140° to 150°F! This works to kill weed seeds and pathogens. In general, a ratio of 2 to 1 mix of “browns” (carbonaceous materials) and “greens” (nitrogenous materials) will provide the best results. This pile should be turned weekly and will take several months before producing the ideal compost to add to soil. This type of composting requires more time and energy, but yields quicker results.
Cold composting is a much slower process. Generally, compostable scraps are added to a one-time or continuous pile and watered. The scraps are not turned and are allowed to decompose on their own over time. In about a year, rich compost will be available. This type of composting is better for the more casual experience and does not require much time or effort.
No matter what kind of composting you decide to try, remember that decomposition is affected by the surface of materials, moisture, and the ventilation of the pile. Smaller particles break down faster, but rigid particles provide structure and add to ventilation. Approximately 40% to 60% moisture is needed to decompose, meaning that the pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Too much or too little moisture will slow decomposition. Piles with proper ventilation produce little or no odor. If hot composting, turning the pile will aid in ventilation. If cold composting, be sure to place your pile in an area or bin that will allow air flow. Happy composting!
Written by: Katie Winslow - Extension Intern