Composting is like baking a cake – all the ingredients serve a purpose and change from their original state into a new final product – except this one is delicious to plants and microorganisms rather than people! But what are the ingredients and what is the baking process like? The ingredients are the proper ratios of organic materials (nitrogenous and carboniferous inputs) and the “baking” takes place due to microorganisms. Think of them as the hypothetical oven. The end product: carbon dioxide, waste, heat and humus; which together is a relatively stable organic end product.
The “baking” process is really three stages of microbial activity that leads to decomposition. Stage 1 is the mesophilic (moderate-temperature) phase, which lasts a couple of days. Stage 2 is the thermophilic (high-temperature) phase, which can last from several days to several months. And finally, stage 3 is a several-month cooling and maturation phase. To quote Nancy Trautmann and Elaina Olynciw from Cornell’s Composting, “Different communities of microorganisms predominate during the various composting phases. Initial decomposition is carried out by mesophilic microorganisms, which rapidly break down the soluble, readily degradable compounds. The heat they produce causes the compost temperature to rapidly rise”. As temperatures rise above about 40ºC, mesophilic organisms become less competitive, and are then replaced by thermophilic organisms. At temperatures of 55ºC and above, many microorganisms which are human or plant pathogens are destroyed. Temperatures over about 65ºC kill many microbes and limit the decomposition rate, so compost managers use aeration and mixing to keep temperatures below this point.
During the thermophilic phase, high temperatures accelerate the breakdown of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates such as cellulose and hemicellulose (the major structural molecules in plants). Once exhausted, the compost temperature gradually decreases and once again mesophilic microorganisms take over during the final “curing” or maturation phase for the remaining organic matter.
There are certain steps that one should take depending on the type of compost desired, and how quickly you would like to get to a finished product. There are also things you should avoid adding to your compost pile for various reasons. The two types of composting are cold composting and hot composting. As Barbara Pleasant of GrowVeg.com says, “When spent plants, weeds and kitchen wastes end up together in a compost pile, they will eventually decompose into compost. Cold compost is left alone to do its thing, which requires no labor but does not give first-rate results. Hot compost is a managed process that produces crumbly black gold better than anything you can buy in bags, and making it can be great fun!”
So which is the right type of compost for you, how can you accelerate the process of composting, and what should you avoid composting? Well, cold compost is the simplest, and is good for beginners. Simply put your weeds and other selected kitchen scraps in a pile and wait. To speed up the process, turn every couple of weeks until the compost has broken down, about 6 months to one year.
For hot compost, the process is a little more complicated, but still manageable for a beginner with the proper information and a little practice. You will need to consider your “browns” (carbon rich materials) and your “greens” (nitrogen rich materials). See charts 2 and 3 for examples of browns and greens for your compost pile. You mix these types of inputs together thoroughly and shape into a pile at least 3 ft or 1 meter wide and tall. It is recommended to use inputs that are in small pieces, such as rotted weeds and food scraps that are relatively small in size. You can tweak the mixture by adding green grass clippings (nitrogen-rich/greens) or shredded leaves (carbon-rich/browns). Once mixed, you can moisten the pile, and should then leave it to rest for four days at least, where the composting process will begin as the inputs begin to meld together and microorganisms join the pile.
After those four days, you can begin to chop through the material and mix/turn the pile thoroughly. After this, you will turn the pile every two to three days for two weeks. You should detect pockets of heat during this process, and you can use a thermometer to figure out if your pile has reached the ideal temperature range of 130-140°F (55-63°C). Another way to gauge is if you cannot hold a fistful of the compost for more than a few seconds, you have reached the ideal temperature range.
Finally, yFlora Bescansa Luersou will let the pile cure for a month after this, either by simply covering the pile, or moving the contents to containers where they will not come into contact with water. And there you have it, hot compost!
The awesome thing about Peeq’s sponges and sponge inserts is that they are made of cellulose derived from wood pulp, and are biodegradable within a year. They make an excellent source of carbon for a compost pile (think: browns) and can be used in both cold and hot compost, though they should be shredded or cut up to minimize the time it takes to biodegrade.