Recycling organic matter into soil conditioning, fertilization, and enrichment material requires a process that is known as composting. It is a technique that uses living organisms to enrich the soil that plants need in order to grow and stay healthy. Composting is a great and inexpensive way to help the environment as well as cut down on the need for fertilizers and some types of pesticides. It is also an activity that both adults and children can participate in. To get the best out of composting, it is necessary to understand how it is done and what is needed to make it happen.
How Composting Works
Composting is a process that can take weeks or months. It begins with the gathering of organic waste to form the start of a compost pile or compost heap. Fungi, bacteria, worms, and other forms of life then consume and process the organic debris into a material called humus, which is rich in essential nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. When the material is combined with a proper amount of water and access to oxygen, the temperature of the composting material will increase to a potential maximum of 150 degrees Fahrenheit or 66 degrees Celsius. At maximum potential temperature, the composting process will take as little as three weeks, but at lower temperatures, it can take several months.
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Benefits of Composting
Compost is an effective substitute for commercial fertilizers, and in some cases, it can also serve as a natural pesticide and barrier for some plant-based diseases. It contributes to enhanced soil moisture retention as well as higher levels of essential nutrients, which result in higher crop yields. The process of composting can also clean up the ecosystem by removing toxins and even some types of heavy metals from the environment. Composting is a critical element when it comes to organic farming and sustainable agriculture in general, and it is useful for anything from home gardening to landscaping or farming on a small or large scale. While composting is great for home gardeners and home agriculture, it also has a variety of other important benefits. It helps with soil reclamation, fighting sediment runoff and topsoil erosion, and creating wetlands to serve as habitats for some types of wildlife. Industrial interests also use compost to cover landfills and also to alleviate the cost of disposing of food waste from schools, shopping malls, and stadiums.
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What To Use, What Not To Use
Organic waste is the most essential element of composting. It includes a wide variety of organic material that is sorted into classes called "greens" and "browns." Green organic waste supplies essential amounts of nitrogen and includes fruit and vegetable remnants, young or dead weeds, freshly mowed grass, tea bags and tea leaves, used coffee grounds, leaves, dried flowers, and various trimmings from landscaping or yard work. Fresh manure from herbivorous animals like cows, horses, and chickens also falls under the "green" category of organic composting materials. Carbon is another necessary part of the composting process, and for that element, brown organic matter is necessary: Examples include hair, straw, eggshells, shredded cardboard, and sawdust.
There are certain materials, however, that people should not use when composting. These include any cooked foods or manure from carnivorous animals, such as cats. Cat litter should also never be used. Never try to compost diapers or metal, including aluminum, or anything that has chemicals in it.
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How to Build A Compost Pile
There are several factors involved in building a compost pile. The first step is to gather the compost material, or organic waste. Open compost bins are the best for achieving optimal exposure to oxygen, which is a vital element in the process. When it comes to outside or backyard composting, the compost material can be arranged in an open pile, which means it can be placed on the ground; however, more optimal results can be achieved by storing it in a container known as a compost bin. When composting indoors or in areas with limited space, using worms, or vermicomposting, is a good choice to reduce odors. According to Cornell University, the compost mixture should contain a ratio of 30 parts carbon to each 1 part nitrogen by weight. Larger ratios of carbon to nitrogen mean the compost material will not reach a sufficient temperature, while lower ratios will result in the generation of excess ammonia gas.
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Maintaining the Pile
Part of the composting process involves actively tending to the project. This is because routine rotation will be necessary to keep the mixture properly exposed to oxygen. A container that tumbles or rotates every one to two days will achieve even better results, as it keeps everything properly mixed and exposed to oxygen from the air. Maintaining proper levels of moisture is also important. Compost piles should only be moist, not so wet that they're dripping with water, and this can be achieved by spraying the mixture with a water bottle or lightly with a garden hose. If the compost material is too wet, it is possible to regulate the moisture level by adding brown materials like shredded cardboard and scraps of used paper towels.
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The Finished Product
Depending on various conditions, the compost may be finished within a matter of weeks or months. When it is complete and ready for use, the material will be of the same temperature as that of the ambient air. It should crumble in one's hands and resemble a dark and rich form of dirt, with an earthy scent. There should be no recognizable remnants of the original materials, nor should there be any mold, ammonia scent, or rotten odors.
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