Composting Basics: How Does Composting Work

composting
Image by solylunafamilia

By Nikki Phipps
(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)

Regardless of your current soil conditions, the addition of compost can transform it into a healthy growing medium for plants. Compost can be worked into the soil by hand or tilling or added as top dressing. It also makes suitable mulch.

Composting Basics

Numerous benefits are associated with the use of compost.

  • It can enhance the soil, building up the structure and texture.
  • It increases airflow and water retention.
  • Compost also stabilizes pH levels and supports essential bacteria.
  • Compost allows plants to effectively use nutrients for obtaining healthier growth as well.

In addition, the organic matter found in compost encourages earthworms, which also help aerate the soil. Other benefits include erosion control and the reduction of soil-borne diseases.

How Does Composting Work?

Advertisement

Compost is made up of organic materials that break down in the soil, enriching its structure and adding essential nutrients. To understand the composting process, it helps to look at the natural decomposition process found in nature. For instance, wooded areas are filled with organic materials—trees, leaves, etc. Over time these materials slowly decompose, or break down, with the help of micro-organisms and earthworms. Once the materials have decomposed, it turns into humus, an essential element in the production of rich, fertile soil and is also responsible for producing healthy plants.

This process is similar to garden composting. Once the decomposition has taken place in the compost pile, the result should be similar to that of humus with a dark, crumbly, soil-like material.

Make Your Own Compost

While composting instructions vary, most share the same basic principles. Generally, passive composting methods are most often used. This method involves small piles of compost contained in a bin, enclosure, or compost containers. These, too, vary with sizes ranging between 5 to 7 feet around and 3 to 4 feet high. However, a more manageable size, especially for smaller gardens, may be no larger than 3 by 3 feet. Nonetheless, it’s easy to tailor your composting system to meet your specific needs.

Most compost is made up of organic materials like leaves, garden plants, newspaper, straw, grass clippings, manure, and kitchen scraps. Kitchen waste should include materials like vegetables and fruit peeling, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc. Meat, fat, and bone products should never be added to the compost pile.

You should alternate layers of green and brown materials. Green items include grass clippings and kitchen scraps, adding nitrogen to the compost. Brown materials add carbon to compost containers and consist of things like leaves, newspaper, and small woody materials.

Moisture and adequate air circulation are vital for composting. Therefore, they should be kept wet but not soggy. In addition, compost should be frequently turned with a garden fork to aid in aeration as well as speed up the decomposition process.

Depending on the materials used and size of the compost pile, decomposition can take anywhere from weeks or months to a year.

Print This Article
This article was last updated on
Did you find this helpful?
Share it with your friends!

Additional Help & Information

Didn't find the answer to your question? Ask one of our friendly gardening experts.

Do you know anything about gardening? Help answer someone's gardening question.

Read more articles about Composting Basics.

Search for more information

Use the search box below to find more gardening information on Gardening Know How: