Composting is a method of decomposing kitchen and yard waste for use in the garden as a soil amendment or topsoil dressing. As waste breaks down, it makes a fine humus, which is a dark in color and smells almost like chocolate. Adding compost to your soil improves drainage, water and nutrient retention and adds nutrients as well.
How Compost Forms
You can form a compost pile using yard and kitchen waste. According to the University of Missouri, microorganisms appear in the material and cause the breakdown of waste into organic humus. Microorganisms gather in great number. As they do, their body heat raises the compost pile's temperature to between 110 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The pile begins to settle, and its acidity raises. As the pile decomposes the pH level acidity will level off between 7.0 to 7.2. When the pile heats up, weeds are killed, making compost pure.
The materials in composting are important, as adding the wrong kind of waste will cause the pile to fail. Leaves, wood, sawdust, straw, grass clippings, leaves, fruit waste, manure, corn stalks and alfalfa hay are all acceptable for the compost pile, says Ohio State University. Kitchen waste is also acceptable, but avoid fatty foods and decaying meat to prevent foul smells and problems with nutrient levels.
Compost piles are often started on the ground, but a barrel or bin is also acceptable. These structures require ventilation holes for air to move through and to prevent retention of too much liquid. Composting in bins or boxes improves the rate of decomposition. When composting in a heap on the ground, the minimum size should be 5 feet by 5 feet with a height of 3 feet.
Layering properly ensures the materials break down. The first layer of a compost pile is best made out of 3 to 4 inches of course material such as chopped brush lying on the ground, or on bricks. The second layer is 6 to 8 inches of mixed leaves, grass and kitchen scrap. A 1-inch layer of topsoil on top of this adds microorganisms to the pile. Optional is a fourth layer, 2 to 3 inches of manure or fertilizer to add nitrogen to the pile. Repeat these layers until the pile is made.
After layering, moisten the pile. It must sit for two weeks until the pile begins to sag in the middle. This indicates that the pile has reached its optimal heat. After three to four weeks you must turn the pile. Regular turning after this speeds up the composting process. After a three to four month period the compost will be ready. It will look dark and have a very rich smell.