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Aerobic Composting - The 7 Components of a Successful Compost Heap

April 18, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 136

Aerobic Composting is the process of producing compost through aerobic decomposition of bio-degradable organic matter. It is the natural degradation process that takes place in gardens and in nature everyday, but instead of allowing Mother nature to take its own slow natural course of turning organic waste materials into usable compost, we can help her along her path of decomposition. As composting is nothing more than the speeding up of this natural decaying process by using micro-biological and non-harmful chemical processes to return important plant nutrients such as nitrogen rich materials back into the soil where they can again be absorbed by other plants to generate new growth.

Compost is an excellent soil additive and conditioner that increases the productivity and workability of the soil. By making the soil richer it helps plants grow which in turn helps the Earth in so many different ways from irrigation to food production. This is why aerobic compost is prized by gardeners and garden centers alike often referring to it as black gold.

Aerobic composting is based on the principal of return, that is what you put in determines what you get out. Composting garden waste and kitchen scraps is one of the best and easiest things you can do to reduce waste and grow a healthy, sustainable garden. Using compost in your garden recycles nutrients and organic matter that help grow trouble-free plants with less water, fertilizer or pesticides.

Understanding what aerobic compost is and how it works will result in good quality compost even for the novice gardener so here is a list detailing the 7 components required to ensure a successful compost heap.

1. The Right Materials - We are constantly being told that for humans to stay healthy we need a balanced diet and the same is also true of the compost heap. The materials you put on your compost heap are its food and composting bacteria thrive best on a mix of juicy succulent nitrogen rich materials called "greens", like fresh grass clippings, annual weeds, and flowers, and on woodier carbon rich materials called "browns", such as autumn leaves, twigs, paper and straw.

I'm sure you've all heard before that adding food scraps to your compost is a good thing. While this is true, an equal mix of greens and browns is equally important in producing quick results so fill your compost heap, or composting bin with 1 part "Green" materials to about 30 parts of "Brown" materials. An aerobic composting heap with too many browns would take a long time to decompose, while too many greens would end up with a smelly algae type mess.

Remember, to quickly produce the right kind of compost, a material needs to have the following two characteristics. 1), it must be biodegradable and 2), it must contain things that are liked by micro-organisms to feed on so you should really avoid the stuff like meat, bones, cooking oils, grease and dairy products because they don't decompose properly, smell bad and adding meat products to your compost heap is like having an open invitation for rodents and other wildlife to feast in your garden's compost pile.

2. Particle Size Matters - As with most things in life, size matters. Piling large twigs, brown materials or whole food stuff's onto your compost pile will only delay its decomposition. Composting bacteria, insects and worms have very small mouths so they prefer smaller bite-sized pieces. Cut large organic food stuff into smaller pieces, use a garden shredder, saw or your lawn mower to break down larger items in very small pieces.

As the material particles are made smaller, more surface area is exposed to the microorganisms that do the work of decay. Most bacteria and microbes often have a hard time getting at the food trapped inside large woody materials. If these are broken down for them it will help speed up the decomposition process as the smaller the pieces, the quicker they will decompose. But there is a negative side to shredding to finely. Smaller particles will also decrease airflow into the pile and may lead to anaerobic conditions due to the lack of oxygen so the pile may need to be turned more often.

3. Size of the Pile - The size of your composting heap also makes a big difference not only to the rate of decomposition but to the quality of the finished pile. Generally speaking, a compost heap should be no more than one cubic yard (3 x 3 x 3 feet) in size or volume making it easier to handle. Smaller aerobic piles tend to dry out quickly so need constant watering, though commercial composting bins with solid sides and a lid will help keep small piles moist. Larger piles take up more space and may need to be turned to let air into the middle.

Also, turning the compost pile on a regular basis to move outer material to the pile center, or to another bin or location is a lot easier and less hard work if the size of the compost pile is more manageable.

4. Moisture Content - Another essential ingredient for rapid aerobic composting is the right amount of water. Bacteria live in water films that surround the materials in the compost pile so you should keep your compost pile moist. If the pile is too dry, the bacteria cannot do their work so add some more greens. If the pile is too wet, the bacteria cannot get the oxygen they need so add some dry browns and turn the pile. Its easy to tell if your pile has the right amount of moisture content (40-60%), just grab a handful of the composting material and squeeze. If water drips out, the pile is too wet. Ideally the compost should be slightly moist, like a damp sponge, in order to ensure bacterial decomposition.

5. Aeration - Composting is an aerobic process, so to help produce good quality compost quickly, lots of fresh air is required allowing the microorganisms and creatures living inside it to breathe. Turning over the compost with a pitchfork or shovel at least once or twice a week aerates the pile turning the fresher outside materials into the center of the newly turned pile and vice-versa. This process of turning or adding coarse, dry material to the compost heap helps improve aeration, inhibit odour-causing bacteria and helps speed up the composting process. The action of turning over the compost regularly to accelerate its decomposition process is called active composting. Just turning the pile will allow excess water to evaporate and will bring fresh air into the pile.

6. Microorganisms - No compost heap would be complete without the bugs that do the work. These air-breathing microorganisms and larger soil life forms are naturally present in the soil and thrive in the moist and nutrient-rich environment that you have created. The smaller decomposters such as bacteria and fungi begin the decomposition process while larger macroorganisms such as beetles, centipedes, earthworms, and millipedes, complete the composting cycle, leaving behind a dark brown humus enhancing medium.

To successfully grow and multiply, these micro and macro-organisms need and energy source as in the "browns", a protein source as in the "greens", as well as oxygen and moisture. But the bugs also like it hot, so your composting materials will turn into finished compost much more quickly in summer than in winter.

7. Take your Time - The speed of composting is dependent on many factors including the moisture content, amount of aeration, and the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, the greens-to-browns ratio. Aeration and moisture are generally the main factors affecting the time necessary to produce finished compost. Weekly turnings of the pile will produce compost in one to two months while monthly turnings will produce compost in four to six months. The most rapid composting happens when you start with mixed brown and green materials, regularly turning and mixing the pile, and control of the water content.

Compost is an excellent soil additive that increases the productivity and workability of the soil. The right quantity and types of materials you put into your compost heap makes a big difference to the quality and composting time of the resulting composted feedstock. You need to think of your compost heap as a complete self contained ecosystem, and to survive, this ecosystem needs the right mix of ingredients such as "Oxygen" (from the air), "Water", "Warmth" and "Food" (from the composting materials), with the quality of the resulting compost depending on how well you control these four factors.

To learn more about "Aerobic Composting" and how you can use it in your garden, or to explore the advantages and disadvantages of using Aerobic Compost as an alternative to shop bought compost, visit 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 both the home and garden.

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Source: EzineArticles
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