Before You Begin Composting

If you are interested in composting, you are on the right track to contributing to an eco-friendly practice that gives back to the Earth. The composting process as a whole requires managing decomposition of organic material, and understanding how to foster that process would take much more than a few paragraphs to explain. That being said, if you are just starting out and want to learn how to begin composting, there are a few basic things you will need to know if you want to get started in the right direction.

First and foremost, before you begin, you’ll need to make sure that if you are going to compost, that you are set up to do so. This means familiarizing yourself with the proper factors that are required for successful composting, and understanding that composting is a process that requires management for a lengthy period of time.

Establish a Location for Your Composting System

Composting will require you to set up a workable system that will allow you to oversee and manage the process over a period of time. Whether you utilize an enclosed composting bin or you build an open bin from wood pallets in your backyard, you will need a designated area to manage the process. Where you place your system will depend on the function of the compost, and you may want to factor in the appearance of the bin as well.

Control the material input, Moisture, and Aeration

Once you establish a location for your compost system, you will need to learn how to achieve the right carbon to nitrogen ratio (C/N), how to determine the correct moisture, and how you will properly aerate the pile in order to foster the process. While you may not learn these specifics over night, you can at least familiarize yourself with a few basic requirements.

A C/N ratio of 25-35 will maximize composting efficiency. Carbon feedstock (browns) includes sawdust, cardboard, dry leaves and cornstalks. Nitrogen feedstocks (greens) include food waste, grass clippings, and manure. So, for example, if you were to mix one part dry leaves with three parts food, you would have an ideal mix.

Next, you’ll need to check moisture content to make sure you’re not adding to much or too little water. You can build a roof to cover your pile to help manage the effect of rain. Ideally, a moisture content of 40 to 60 percent by weight supports the success of the composting process. This can be easily determined by squeezing a fistful of your material. It should have the wetness of a wrung-out sponge, in that you should be able to form drops of water on the surface, but not release more than a few drops. Add water if too wet, or bulking material such as sawdust if too wet.

Turning your pile to ensure proper ventilation is also critical to the process. Increased temperature is the result of the aerobic respiration taking place within the pile. You’ll need to achieve temperatures of around 110 degrees Fahrenheit to demonstrate that aerobic metabolism is taking place, and 131 to 150 degrees Fahrenheit for the full range aerobic bacteria to be involved in the process. While learning to turn correctly cannot be summed up in a few short sentences, there is a general rule of thumb to help you monitor the aeration. If temperatures are low and odors are present, the process has become anaerobic, as aerobic digestion doesn’t smell. If your C/N ratio is good and your moisture level is in range, then you need to get more air to the pile, so it is time to turn.

Before you attempt to compost, understand that factors such as these will come into play as you manage the decomposition of organic material.