Composting Process


Instead of bagging up all the leaves in the fall or filling the trash receptacle with kitchen garbage, the organic material can be composted and used to enrich your garden soil. Composting is a way to recycle, and the material never leaves your property--it simply takes a new and useful form.

Organic Material

Organic material suitable for composting includes horse and cow manure, leaves, plant clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds and paper. Other manure can also be used, but the general rule is to keep feces from meat-eating animals out of the compost pile. This would include droppings from your dog and cat. Although food is organic material, avoid adding meat or fat to the pile, as it attracts pests and creates unpleasant odors.

Smaller Pieces

During the composting process the organic matter decomposes, and when the matter is properly combined, the process renders a soil material, rich in nutrients. Before adding clippings or other items to the pile, cut them into smaller pieces. Paper should be shredded before adding. Adding large pieces will significantly slow down the process.

Moist and Heat

Composting involves layering the organic material on a flat area with good drainage. Compost bins can be purchased or built to contain the matter. The pile should be kept slightly moist (the consistency of a wrung-out sponge) and turned periodically. In order for the composting process to proceed, the pile needs to heat up. If the pile becomes too wet, it will begin to smell; a dry pile won't compost.

Layer Matter

Begin by making a layer of organic matter, such as leaves, plant clippings and suitable kitchen scraps. Over the first layer, add a layer of fertilizer or manure. This provides activators to heat up the pile. This layer also adds nitrogen and proteins and enzymes needed for the decomposition process. Over the top of the fertilizer or manure add, about one or two inches of soil.

Adding Material

Continue to add by layering. Once the pile resembles moist soil, new items can be added to the center of the pile and turned in, instead of layering. It's best to keep the compost pile a manageable size, no larger than a 5-foot square.

Protection From Rain

During the rainy season, some gardeners suggest covering the pile with a plastic tarp; yet others warn against using plastic, as the material will hinder the circulation needed for the process. You don't want the pile to become a muddy or swampy mess, but you don't want to cut off circulation. If you use plastic as a covering for the rain, make sure the pile gets proper circulation and regular turning.

Keywords: compost process, compost pile, composting

About this Author

Ann Johnson was the editor of a community magazine in Southern California for more than 10 years and was an active real estate agent, specializing in commercial and residential properties. She has a Bachelors of Art degree in communications from California State University of Fullerton. Today she is a freelance writer and photographer, and part owner of an Arizona real estate company.