How Is Composting Done?

The Process

Composting is a process that speeds the natural decomposition of organic matter by mixing different types of that matter in an environment that is conducive to bacteria and other microorganisms. Besides decomposing organisms such as fungi, bacteria and bugs, compost piles also require a mix of nitrogen, carbon, water and oxygen to thrive. When mixing organic matter to compost, it's best to add a combination of matter that's high in carbon (such as dry leaves) with matter that's high in nitrogen (such as grass clippings) to the pile. Other items that can be added to a compost pile include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, twigs, sawdust, livestock manure, shredded paper and straw. Once the material has composted, the remaining dark, soil-like material can be added to gardens as fertilizer. There are several different processes used to complete composting.

Hot Composting

Hot composting is a process that is mainly utilized during the growing season in warmer climates. The warm external temperatures and the heat generated by the compost itself help the composting organisms to thrive, breaking down the organic matter in a manner of weeks. An aerated composting bin is necessary for hot composting. The pile should contain an equal ratio of of high-carbon and high-nitrogen matter, and should be 4 or 5 feet tall and wide. After the matter is piled into the bin, it will begin to heat from the inside. Water the composting pile every few days to keep it moist, and use a shovel or rake to turn the pile once a day when the internal temperature reaches 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cold Composting

Cold composting is the simplest of all the composting processes, but it also takes the longest time to complete. Cold composting requires no special balance of organic matter; rather, it can all be piled up on the ground or in a composting bin, where it decomposes slowly. This method works best for shredded yard waste, such as lawn clippings. Once the compost pile has decomposed, a process that takes anywhere from several months to a year to complete, the compost will be chunkier than a hot-composted pile. This is because the organic matter doesn't break down as thoroughly due to the lack of heat.


Vermicomposting is a process that uses worms in place of bacteria and fungi. It can take place year-round, even in cooler climates, because it is done entirely indoors. The best place to set up a vermicomposting pile is in a dark, cool place that is separate from your day-to-day living area, such as a basement, garage or sealed porch. Line an aerated composting bin with fine nylon mesh and place a tray underneath the bin to contain any matter that may drain from the holes. Shred up some newspaper, dampen it with water and add it to one side of the bin, along with the worms. If you're not sure what type of composting worms are available in your area, check with your local gardening center. Feed the worms daily with fruit and vegetable scraps and peels, placing them on top of the paper. The worms will break down the scraps, as well as the newspaper. In about three months, the newspaper bedding will be gone; replace it with fresh, damp paper on the other side of the bin. To harvest the compost, place the bin underneath a bright light and scoop the decomposed matter into a container. The light will force the worms to burrow into the bedding, making sure you don't scoop them out, too.

Keywords: vermicomposting, compost pile, compost bin, decompose, organic matter

About this Author

Katie Leigh is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. A Loyola University New Orleans graduate with a bachelor's degree in communications, Leigh has worked as a copy editor, page designer and reporter for several daily newspapers and specialty publications since 2005.