More Common Composting Terms

Last week, we tried to provide you with a few basic composting terms that are common knowledge to the average composter. The idea was to help relay this introductory information to you if you are new to the world of composting, or if you know someone who is interested, but who is having a hard time grasping what it’s all about.

In order to break down the scientific process of composting and explain it to someone who may be unfamiliar with it, it helps to start by learning these common terms. So, if you’re ready for another round of common composting terms, grab a pen and start taking notes. As you learn more and more about the process, you’ll be on your way to composting in no time.

1. Bulking Agent– Typically plays a role in carbon source, and is used as an additive in compost to promote quality air flow. Generally refers to materials like wood chips.

2. Curing– Think of this as a final “step” in composting. It is the last stage of the process that allows for the stabilization and reduction of pathogens. Most importantly, it further promotes the decomposition process.

3. Humus– Combined with inorganic soil parts, humus is a collection or mass of lignin, proteins, and cellulose, and is considered the life of your soil. It supports and sustains your soil’s quality as you compost.

4. Mature Compost– The product of composting, mature compost is the result of decomposition. When it is considered “mature,” this means it is sanitized and in the process of becoming stabilized.

5. Pathogen– Sound familiar? This one takes you right back to science class, right? In the world of composting, a pathogen is considered an organism that is capable of producing disease and infection in a host. This organism includes protozoa, viruses, bacteria, and fungi.

6. Windrow Composting– A type of composting that involves placing organic matter and biodegradable waste in windrows, or long rows. Naturally aerated by mechanical turning or forced aeration, windrow composting is a common method used to produce generous amounts of compost material.

Common Composting Terms that Everyone Should Know

Whether you are new to the practice of composting or you are a seasoned composting pro, attempting to understand or relay basic composting information can be a challenge. This is partly due to the contradiction we often hear when talking about the process of composting.

We often hear that it is an easy process and that it sounds much more complicated than it really is, yet any veteran composting pro would be happy to tell you why it is, in fact, more intricate than many people lead you to believe. So, what’s the verdict? Is it a confusing process, or is it something almost anyone can grasp if they simply do their homework?

The answer is: composting is certainly for everyone. The more individuals that compost, the better. It is not only an excellent way to restore land and eliminate contaminants in soil, but it is an eco-friendly practice overall in that it helps to reduce organics going to landfills. Many people may be interested in learning how to compost, only to be later thwarted by intimidating terms and scientific processes they cannot understand.

If you find yourself wanting to learn about the basics of composting or you would like a few simple terms to reference to when you are trying to relay the basics to someone who is new to the process, here are a few common terms that anyone who is interested in composting should know.

Compost– A mixture of a combination of decaying organic material such as vegetation and manure, which is carefully managed, then used to improve soil and support plant growth.

Aerobic– In the presence of oxygen. Within the context of composting, it means providing air to the composting materials in order to encourage oxygen-loving bacteria, which results in efficient and clean processing.

Anaerobic– In the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic decomposition is slow and odoriferous.

Biodegradation– The process through which microorganisms break down a material into a lower, and ultimately more stable, form.

Aerated Static Pile Composting– A composting method in which the materials being composted are aerated by drawing air through the pile rather than by turning the material to expose it to air.

Compost Pad– A designated area, usually made of asphalt or soil cement, where organic materials are processed. This area is found within the composting site itself.

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.