Aerobic Composting: 7 Steps to the Perfect Compost Heap

Recycling Organic Kitchen Waste

Earlier I posted about The Town with No Waste for Earth Day awareness, and if you’re interested in moving towards a waste-free life, recycling and composting are key elements.

Composting can be daunting, but here are seven simple composting tips to help any beginner get started.

When it comes to making a compost heap you can, if you wish, just pile all your organic waste in your garden and wait for Mother Nature to do its thing. However, this is a very slow process that may take months if not years to achieve. There are plenty of things that can be done to speed things along and create nutrient rich compost in the shortest time possible. But before you begin to create a compost heap it helps to understand a little first about the composting process.

Aerobic composting is simply a matter of using chemical free, microbiological processes which reduces bio-degradable organic waste to a more basic form. When a plant grows it absorbs nutrients from the soil, using them to build healthy structure and form. By allowing plant and vegetable waste to break back down close to their original form, the resulting aerobic compost can then be mixed with the soil, so providing the growing plants with these vital nutrients.

Adding nutrient rich aerobic compost to the soil will aid your plant and vegetable growing efforts in the following manner:

  • The soil will become easier to work and provide the growing plants with the necessary nutrition for health and strength.
  • Aerobic composting helps the soil with natural irrigation, meaning less manual watering.
  • No need to use pesticides, chemicals and fertilizers on your plants.
  • Stronger, healthier blooms on flowers and bigger, juicier and a larger yield of fruits and vegetables.

Aerobic composting is all about “reaping what you sow”. In other words, the more nutrients you provide to the soil, the healthier and more productive your plants will be.

The 7 Steps to Aerobic Composting Success.

Giving Mother Nature a helping hand in her natural breakdown of organic matter is what composting is all about. Even the most novice of gardeners can create great compost simply by ensuring the following:

  1. It’s all about the material content. What materials and matter you add to the compost heap will determine the level of nutrients that the end result adds to the soil. Never forget that plants are a living, dynamic entity so in the exact same way as a human requires a healthy balanced diet, so do they. So it makes sense that your compost heap also has a good healthy balance of content as well. Think of it as feeding your compost heap. The organic material you add to the heap can be broken down into two separate groups: the “greens” and the “browns.”  The greens are made up of nitrogen rich produce, and not surprisingly, tend to be green in colour. These will include grass cuttings, weeds and other green or light coloured fleshy plant matter. The browns are the items that are rich in carbon and fibre such as fallen leaves, paper, straw and twigs and are an important part allowing the aerobic composting heap to breath.The ratio of these items is important, and should be around 30 parts brown to 1 part green. Be aware that too much of the green content can create a mushy, algae type heap, whereas not enough will create a heap that takes an age to decompose.The addition of food scraps can, in some cases, be advantageous, helping to keep a balance in the compost heap. However, you should take care to add items that are only biodegradable, as well as being microorganism friendly. Items such as bones, meat, dairy products and fat are not conducive to successful compost because of their inability to completely break down. In addition, they attract vermin into your garden not exactly something any of us want.
  2. Size matters! If you throw large pieces onto your compost heap it’s going to take longer to breakdown. The more surface area you can expose, the faster the breakdown process will be. Cutting, shredding or using any method to reduce the individual size of the pieces on the heap is the answer. Bacteria, microbes, insects or worms all need to be able to get to every part of the contents, so doing this gives a head start and speeds up the process.However, one word of caution is that the smaller the particles the more the aerobic composting heap can compress together. This can lead to a lack of oxygen in center areas of the heap, so turning it regularly is essential to ensure the much needed airflow.
  3. How big is yours? Your compost pile, that is… Too large and it can become unmanageable, too small and you’ll find it dries out too quickly and will need regular watering. The ideal size for most aerobic composting heaps is around 3ft x 3ft x 3ft. This makes it easy to manage and turn on a regular basis, plus it doesn’t take up too much room in your back yard.
  4. Fancy a drink? As a living entity, your compost heap not only needs food, but water as well. The quantity of moisture in the heap has a direct effect on the speed of the composting. Essential bacteria live in a microscopic film of water. If the heap becomes too dry they can’t work as efficiently and too wet they are deprived of essential oxygen.To check the moisture content take a handful of the decomposing compost and squeeze it. If water drips out it’s too wet. The ideal moisture content of around 40-60% means your heap should feel rather like a wet sponge. To moisten up a dry heap add more green matter. To dry or aerate a heap that’s become too wet, add some brown matter. In both situations ensure that you rotate the compost pile to thoroughly mix in the additional materials.
  5. Let it breathe. Aerobic composting requires oxygen. After all, the bacteria, worms and other organisms need air to exist, so turning or forking over the heap on a regular basis allows for this essential airflow. Known as active composting, turning over the pile at least once a week moves the interior of the compost pile to the outside, allowing any excess moisture inside the chance to evaporate. It also helps reduce any odours and speeds up the decomposition process.
  6. It’s a bug’s life! The reason aerobic composting works so well is thanks to the bugs and microorganisms that live and survive in the aerobic composting heap. So it’s your job to provide them with as hospitable environment as possible. Fungi and bacteria, known as microorganisms, are responsible for the first part of the decomposition process. Once they’ve finished then the larger bugs (called macroorganisms), such as worms, millipedes and beetles, take over. The end result is a dark browny, nutrient rich product that gardeners and horticulturalists refer to as black gold.All of these bacteria and bugs require protein (the green waste) and an energy source (the brown waste), along with water and oxygen to survive. They also love the heat. Therefore aerobic composting produces a faster process in the summer.
  7. Don’t sweat about it. Whilst you may want to speed up the natural breakdown process, it’s also necessary to not rush things. Many things transpire to determine how fast the waste turns into perfect aerobic compost. The main reasons are the moisture content and aeration, followed by the ratio of carbon to nitrogen (green and brown waste).In general, if you turn your aerobic composting heap on a weekly basis you can expect the process to take around 1-2 months. If you turn it on a monthly basis, then it should be ready to use in about 4-6 months. For optimum results, ensure you thoroughly mix the green and brown waste at the beginning, turn regularly and manage the moisture content.

Think of your aerobic compost heap as a living entity with its own ecosystem. Exactly the same as with any living thing, it requires food, water, oxygen and warmth to successfully survive. How you manage these will determine how quickly your waste transforms into the perfect compost.

To learn more about Aerobic Composting and how you can use it in the garden, or to explore the advantages and disadvantages of using “Aerobic Compost” as an alternative to shop bought compost, visit Alternative Energy Tutorials today and find lots more good quality and free alternative energy tutorials as well as information and articles about the many different types of alternative energy sources available for the home.

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