What is Composting?

Composting and Worm Composting |  Advice Sheets |  What is Composting?

What is composting?
Composting is the means that organic materials break down, decompose and reduce in volume, without it the planet would be miles deep in leaves, let alone anything else! In breaking down this organic matter provides food for millions of different living creatures, from bacteria and fungi, through small bugs, larger bugs up to and including worms, not only is this food provided but once eaten by the worms it has to be deposited back, okay, it's worm poo but the proper name is worm casts. These casts have now become enriched with nutrients, minerals etc and are then used by the plants that started the decomposition in the first place, a self contained, self supporting, recycling, circle of life.

Types of composting.
There are many different ways to compost organic waste but there are really only two that are of interest to readers and users of this website, these are "aerobic composting" and "vermicomposting"

Aerobic composting.
Starting with "aerobic composting" this simply is the type of composting when a bin or a heap is use to rot it all down. This method relies on the bugs, bacteria and fungi present in the waste to decompose the material, in doing so it will generate heat as a by product, if heat is being generated (and this has very little to do with the sun) then the decomposition is working well, the waste will reduce and you will end up with a good compost .To achieve this situation, ie. bugs, bacteria etc working well, the right conditions have to be in place and this is where most compost bins and compost heaps fail to work properly. Like all living things, bugs, bacteria, fungi and micro life need a good balanced diet, in this case it is made up from a mix of nitrogen and carbons found in the waste provided for them in the compost bin along with a good supply of oxygen from the air, the nitrogen comes from all the veggie peelings, the left over table scraps, the grass cuttings etc, these are the "greens" The carbon is provided from, paper, cardboard, leaves etc, these are the "browns" The "green" and "browns" should be half and half, this should all be mixed together which also allows air into the material, not only should this be done when adding these materials but also the older contents should be stirred up to allow in more air, hence the reason for "turning the compost heap over".

Vermicomposting (Worm composting)
Next we come to "vermicomposting" or worm composting, in this system we use the worms to do the work, instead of letting the waste heat up we keep it cold and this is done by putting it onto the worms in thin layers instead of piling it up as you would in a compost bin or compost heap, when it is in thin layers like this, the bugs and bacteria still get to work but any heat produced escapes and is not trapped in the waste, this is good for the worms because they feed on all of this and don't get burnt doing it! Naturally, as they feed, what goes in must come out and this is known as "casts", these casts and the mix of compost that is left behind are very beneficial to plant growth (I wonder why we have worms in the soil, living all around the plant roots?) So there we have the two main methods of composting.

But why should we compost?
If you have a garden, an allotment or even a farm you will know why, as said before it is a very simple and effective way of producing something that your plants will thrive on and the added bonus is you get rid of your green waste but if you live in a flat or house with no garden, why compost? You can always use it in tubs, baskets and troughs but is that enough?
Global warming, climate change, the planet is heating up etc are all fairly new buzz words and everybody is trying to use these buzz words to jump on the band wagon, from turning your washing machine down to buying car insurance where they will plant a tree for you!
One of the most genuinely useful ways of "doing your bit" is to first to cut down on the amount of organic waste you produce by trying not to buy so much, remember organic waste includes all sorts of things not only your kitchen and garden waste but think of the amount of paper and cardboard thrown out, certainly you can recycle it through kerbside collections but wouldn't it be better if the dustcart didn't have to collect it? A few facts to think on, something like 75% of all waste still sent to landfill is compostable, "ordinary" composting would reduce this waste by about 50% vermicomposting or worm composting would reduce it by up to 80%! Even if you had no option but to put the finished compost out for the dustcart to take to landfill, it would be a lot less dustcart trips and plants could grow in it once it was there, got to be worth a bit of effort.

I hope this has been of some help and I hope you now feel that composting is worth a go.