The Composting Process
Also, see Making Good
There are six key elements to a composting process that you
need to be aware of:
1) Nutrient balance -
especially the ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N). This is
controlled mostly by the types of materials you add to your
mixture. Microorganisms use carbon materials (like
carbohydrates) for their energy and they use nitrogen to build
up their proteins. The ideal C:N ratio is 30:1. Too much
nitrogen and the pile will give off an odor; too much carbon in
the pile will not sufficiently heat up and the composting
process will take longer.
2) Moisture content - Your
compost pile should remain moist but not wet. It should feel
damp but if you can squeeze water out of it is too wet.
Microorganisms need moisture and oxygen to survive. As your
pile heats up, especially in the summer, moisture evaporates
quickly. If the pile dries out, the bacteria will die.
3) Air - Your little
microorganisms will do their best work with adequate air space.
The compost pile should be freestanding, or, if in a bin,
should be encased with chicken wire or some means of
ventilation. Too much of one kind of material like grass
clippings can compact the pile. Mixing in course material like
wood chips or straw will provide greater space. You must
periodically turn your pile with a spading fork to increase
aeration. How often you do this is determined by the
temperature of the pile.
4) Temperature - Your
compost pile will produce heat. As the bacteria is breaking
down the vegetation in the pile it is giving off a lot of heat.
The best temperature range for your pile is between 110° and
140°. If the pile gets too hot it can kill the bacteria.
Turning your pile will help to regulate the temperature and
replenish oxygen levels. The best time to turn your pile is
when the temperature begins to drop in the pile. This means the
oxygen has been used up.
5) Pile Size - The ideal
size for an effective compost pile is 4 feet high by 4 feet
deep by however long you like it to be. The pile needs to be
large enough to insulate itself against heat loss. Piles are
too big tend to compact and lose oxygen.
6) Curing - When your
compost pile stops heating up when you turn it, is still not
quite ready to be added to your garden. Some of the
low-activity bacteria is now working to further break down the
large chunks and finishing off the mixture with sustainable
nutrients and re-colonizing beneficial bacteria. Maintain
moisture in your pile and turn it occasionally.