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Composting involves recycling and reusing organic materials such as food waste, grass and even coffee grounds in order to produce compost. It is the decaying or decomposing of the materials over time that creates the compost. Invertebrates (such as earthworms) and micro-organisms (which can’t be seen without using a microscope) are an important part of the decomposition process. They help to break down the organic materials. Compost is full of nutrients and enriches the soil. It helps plants to grow and thrive. Compost can be used in several ways. It can be used as mulch (which is a protective cover that surrounds plants to keep moisture from evaporating, weeds from growing and roots from freezing). Compost is beneficial for plants when mixed into the soil in planting holes in the ground. It helps the plant grow big and strong. Compost helps sandy soil better retain moisture and nutrients. It also makes clay soil better for planting. Compost can be used in potting soil for plants that you put in containers. Potting soil can be made by combining compost with a little sand.

Ingredients

A variety of materials (ingredients) are combined to create the most nutrient rich compost. The greater your variety of materials, the greater the variety of microorganism types that will help to recycle plant parts. The microorganisms need both brown materials (dried, dead parts of plants such as leaves) and green materials (living plant parts that are fresh such as grass clippings) to nibble on. The brown materials tend to be high in carbon while the green materials tend to be high in nitrogen. You want to try to balance the carbon to nitrogen ratio. Additional examples of brown materials which are high in carbon include: pine needles, newspaper and sawdust. Additional examples of green materials which are high in nitrogen include: food scraps, coffee grounds and horse manure. Composting also requires both air (oxygen) and water in order for the microorganisms to work and to live.
Photo by Leon RobertsPhoto by Leon Roberts

Recipe

Composting is a fun and easy activity to do which is also environmentally-friendly. The first thing to do is to choose a spot to set up your compost bin. Try to put it in an area that is convenient for you to access. You also need room to be able to work in. Try to avoid high-traffic areas. Being close to a water source can be very helpful. Begin your compost bin with an approximately six-inch layer of brown materials such as pine needles or dead leaves. Your next layer should be comprised of green materials such as grass clippings. Make this layer several inches thick. It is beneficial to mix the two layers up a little. In order to add some microorganisms to the bin, next sprinkle some soil or compost. After you create each layer, add water to it to wet all the ingredients in it. You continue to add these same layers of ingredients until your bin is full. Let the decomposition begin!
Compost-handful

Micro-organisms

Micro-organisms are an important part of the composting process. They help to break down organic matter, and produce things such as carbon dioxide, heat, water and the end product of compost called humus. Different phases involve different temperatures which occur throughout the process of producing compost. Different micro-organisms thrive during each of the various stages. Bacteria is one type of micro-organism that can be found when creating compost. These bacterium are all single-celled, and many can move using their own power. They are the smallest living organisms as well as the most abundant in compost. Bacteria are the biggest contributor in terms of heat generation and decomposition. They utilize a lot of different enzymes to break down the various organic materials.
Actinomycetes are another type of micro-organism that can be found in compost. They look similar to spider webs with long, thread-like branched filaments throughout the compost. They resemble fungi but are actually filamentous bacteria. They do not have a nuclei but grow multicellular filaments similar to fungi.
Actinomycetes contain powerful enzymes that help them to break down tougher debris such as bark and newspaper.
Fungi is also a micro-organism often assisting in the decomposition process. Fungi includes both yeasts and molds. They produce many filaments and cells which means that they grow rapidly. When organic residues are too dry, acidic or low in nitrogen for bacterial decomposition, fungi is able to step in and attack. The majority of fungi are considered saprophytes because they reside on dying or already dead material. They are able to break down organic matter in both dead plants and animals in order to obtain energy. Fungi often live in the outer compost layer when the temperature is high.
Here are some great resources on composting!