What is Composting?
The Road from Grapefruit Rind to Sunflower
You tell your wife you are going to do the composting.
You head outside to your pile, carrying your bucket of coffee grinds, banana peels and grapefruit rinds from breakfast, imagining the black, crumbly dirt awaiting you. It has a nice soft texture; it may contain a few bugs or worms; it smells earthy; you imagine your plants growing to magnificent proportions because they're so happy. This year you will plant a sunflower patch.
But often, your compost results are something different...
Composting is the process of getting organic matter into compost.
Compost is the end result of the decomposition. It is stable, which means it can not break down into smaller particles (or at least, it will take a very, very long time). It is also called humus.
The reality of making compost, however, is that rarely do we end up with the ideal "black, crumbly" stuff. And when is that "black, crumbly" stuff actually done? Can it have 2 twigs left in a handful? 3??
So first of all, as modern, not so perfect gardeners, we need to relax our vision of compost, and re-define it as "good enough". Compost is when decomposition is "good enough". It's texture is finished when we can spread it "good enough".
Composting is decomposition. In other words, rotting. And rotting happens. It isn't organized and it doesn't follow any rules.
So compost is what naturally occurs whether or not we intervene. It just does. Throw a stick on the ground and come back in a few years and it will be gone. It composted itself. It's an ashes to ashes thing.
The natural processes of decomposition which happens when a tree falls in the woods is conducted by microorganisms and macroorganisms. Another way of breaking organic matter into smaller components uses larger animals--manure.
Manure, particularly from grass-eating animals, is the next step up in decomposition. The animals eat the plants, and their digestion starts breaking the plants down. Out the other end and you have something which is half way to compost and which can help speed the decomposition of plant matter.
Another common, natural means to break organic matter into smaller parts is chemical: fire. While the resulting ash from fire is not considered compost, it has broken complex organic compounds into simple ones--just like making compost..
When we talk about composting as a gardening chore, we describe managing, and hopefully speeding up the natural process of decomposition. By fussing with the carbon/nitrogen ratios, increasing or decreasing oxygen and water, by changing the pH and by adding macroorganisms like worms, we are simply making nature follow our schedule.
But in the end, compost happens. If you do nothing but pile your organic waste in a heap in the backyard, with enough time it will decompose.
So relax. Take it easy. Have fun.
Become a compost artist and play with decomposition.
Where do you want to go now?