What is Composting

What is Composting? Everything You Need to Know

Composting is an incredibly complex yet beneficial process for both the environment and the garden. Many people are unaware of the potential that composting can have in their homes, gardens, and even public spaces, so this guide will serve as a step-by-step introduction to what exactly composting is and how individuals can get started.

Why Does Composting Matter?

Composting helps to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills, and it also enriches the soil with vital nutrients that are essential for optimal plant growth. Additionally, composting can help to save money by cutting down on the need for fertilizer and other soil additives. Furthermore, composting helps to create healthy soils which in turn support a rich diversity of wildlife and plants. All these benefits make composting an invaluable practice that everyone should be doing in their homes or gardens.

person holding black soil

How Does Composting Work?

Composting is the process of breaking down organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil additive. This process can be done through various methods, but generally, it involves creating a pile or bin of organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, and other plant material

The microorganisms in the compost then break down these materials over time, releasing nutrients that are beneficial to plants and soils. Composting also helps to reduce waste going into landfills while also improving air quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from decomposing organic matter in landfills.

The end result is a dark crumbly substance known as compost which can be used in gardens or lawns to improve soil structure and fertility.

Four Factors That Affect the Speed of Organic Decomposition

Four key factors that have an impact on the speed of organic decomposition include:

  1. Temperature
  2. Moisture Content,
  3. Oxygen Levels
  4. Microbial Activity


Temperature plays an important role in the rate of organic decomposition since microorganisms need warmth to break down the material. In general, higher temperatures will increase the rate of decay while lower temperatures slow it down.


Moisture also affects how quickly materials break down as microbes need adequate water to survive and thrive during their work.


Oxygen is another factor; without enough oxygen present in a given environment, bacteria won’t be able to conduct respiration efficiently and thus won’t be able to do their job effectively either.

Microbial Activity:

Finally, microbial activity itself impacts the speed of decomposition because more active organisms mean more efficient breakdowns occur over time. Ultimately, any one or combination of these four factors can influence just how fast organic matter breaks down in any given ecosystem or situation!

10 Compost Troubleshooting Suggestions

It can also be tricky to get started with composting or troubleshooting issues that may arise when starting. To help you out, here are 10 compost troubleshooting ideas for you to consider when starting your own composting system:

1. Make sure you have the right ratio of green materials to brown materials. The ideal ratio is three parts green material (such as food scraps and grass clippings) to one part brown material (such as straw, wood chips, or shredded leaves). This mixture helps maintain the proper balance of moisture, oxygen and microbial activity needed for decomposition.

2. Make sure your compost pile has adequate aeration by regularly turning the pile with a pitchfork or garden fork. This will help introduce oxygen into the mix and speed up the decomposition process. It’s also important to make sure that your compost is turned over periodically so that all areas of the pile are exposed to air and microbial activity.

3. Consider adding a compost activator such as nitrogen-rich manure or commercial products designed specifically for this purpose as they can help jumpstart the composting process by providing essential nutrients and aiding in microbial growth.

4. Monitor the temperature of your compost heap using a thermometer so that you can make sure it’s not getting too hot or too cold for optimal decomposition rates. If it gets too hot, add more brown material; if it gets too cold, add more green material and monitor closely until temperatures rise again.

5. Make sure that any organic matter added to the heap is finely chopped or shredded before being added – this will help increase surface area and aid in decomposition rate as well as reduce smells from anaerobic bacteria in larger chunks of organic matter which don’t have enough oxygen for them to properly break down.

6. Avoid adding meat scraps, dairy products, oils, or fats since these items will attract pests such as rodents and flies due to their high smell potential – instead opt for plant-based items such as fruit peels & veggie scraps! Additionally, avoid adding weeds that have gone to seed since these can germinate in your heap which can lead to unwanted plants sprouting up in your finished product!

7. Keep an eye on any pests that may be attracted by odors and take steps such as sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the perimeter of the heap or building smaller heaps off the ground (to reduce odors) if necessary – also be sure not to leave any food scraps uncovered overnight!

8. If you find yourself dealing with an overly wet pile due to rain or other factors then try adding some dry brown materials (straw or wood chips) or mixing it with some soil – either option should help absorb excess moisture from within the stack!

9 . Monitor pH levels using a soil test kit – ideally keeping them between 5-7 for optimal decomposition rates but anything between 4-8 should still work just fine! Too acidic environments may require some lime or wood ash being added while alkaline ones might benefit from sulfur powder additions if necessary!

10 . Lastly, if at all possible aim for creating large heaps rather than small ones – larger heaps retain more heat which means faster breakdowns & overall higher-quality results.

When is My Compost Finished?

So how do you know when your compost is finished and ready for use in your garden? The answer to this question depends on what type of composting system you’re using and the materials that you’re composting.

Hot Composting:

When it comes to hot composting, you’ll know when your compost is finished when the pile has cooled off, which usually takes about 3-6 weeks. You should also see that the pile has reduced in size significantly and the original materials have mostly degraded. The finished compost will look like crumbly dark soil with an earthy smell. Hot composting is the most efficient way to make fast compost as it involves increasing the temperature of the pile to speed up the decomposition process.

Cold Composting:

On the other hand, if you’re cold composting, which involves creating a pile and allowing it to break down over time, then your finished compost will take longer, according to local food connect, it could be somewhere around 6 months to a year or more—depending on what materials you’re using in your bin. When cold compost is ready, it will look like dark soil with an earthy smell. Cold composting is slower compared to hot composting but still produces good-quality soil in the end.


Another factor that affects when your compost is finished is what kind of ingredients are used in it. Different types of ingredients will break down at different rates so if your mix contains things like wood chips or shredded paper, these items may take much longer than vegetable scraps or grass clippings. To ensure that all ingredients have broken down properly before use, check for any large chunks that don’t seem decomposed yet and add them back into the bin for further decomposing if needed.


To get an even better idea of when your compost might be finished, consider taking a sample from your pile every few weeks (especially if hot-composting) and testing its pH levels as well as its nutrient content using a home testing kit sold at most gardening stores. A finished sample should register between 5.5-8 pH levels and contain plenty of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK), which are essential for healthy plant growth.

Factors That Affect the Quality of Compost

The quality of compost can have a huge impact on the success or failure of a planting endeavor, and there are several factors that affect the quality of the compost being used. Knowing what these factors are and how to use them to maximize your compost’s effectiveness can make all the difference in your gardening success.

  1. Age
  2. Particle Size
  3. Moisture Content

Age of Compost:

The first factor that affects the quality of compost is its age.

Compost that has been aged will typically be more nutrient-rich and packed with beneficial organisms than freshly made compost. When making compost from scratch, incorporating aged materials such as manure or other aged organic matter can help speed up decomposition, which is necessary for creating high-quality compost.

Particle Size:

Another factor that affects the quality of compost is particle size, or how small each particle in the mix is broken down. Smaller particles create larger surface areas per volume and allow for better airflow throughout the pile, which speeds up decomposition significantly. This also allows beneficial bacteria and other organisms more access to nutrients they need to break down material within the pile. Properly managing particle size when creating a pile is essential if wanting to create high-quality finished compost in a timely manner.

Moisture Content:

The third factor affecting the quality of compost is moisture content. Maintaining a proper balance between wet and dry materials is important when constructing a pile if you want it to heat up properly during decomposition; too much water can prevent it from getting hot enough and result in slow decomposition rates while not enough water limits microbial activity and results in an inefficient breakdown process as well.

Finding a balance between wetting agents such as moist green materials like soft fruits or vegetables versus dry browns like straw or sawdust usually produces optimal results when trying to achieve good levels of moisture content in a heap or bin system.

Composting successfully relies on paying attention to all these factors; age, particle size, and moisture content all play an important role in determining how successful your efforts will be at creating high-quality material that’s full of nutrients necessary for plants’ growth needs. While most people tend to focus just on what goes into their piles without thinking about these three factors.

Finished compost is a valuable soil amendment that can be used to improve the structure, fertility and water-holding capacity of any type of garden soil. It’s also an excellent mulch for suppressing weeds and conserving moisture in flower beds, vegetable gardens and lawns. When used as part of an integrated pest management program, compost can help reduce plant diseases by improving the health of your plants.

Composting Techniques & Technologies

Below are different techniques and technologies you can consider to start composting today!

Contained Compost Solutions

Composting tumblers:

A compost tumbler is typically a plastic drum that sits on legs or wheels and spins like a clothes dryer when turned by hand. The drum has openings at one end so that the user can add material and extract finished compost from the other end. The airtight lid helps keep odors inside, and the spinning action aerates the material inside to help speed up the composting process. The drum should be placed in full sun, as this helps heat up the material inside and also keeps pests away from your compost pile.

Modified Trashcan:

Composting with a modified trashcan is an easy and efficient way to create nutrient-rich soil for your garden without spending a lot of time or money. This method of composting requires a few basic items, such as a clean, plastic trashcan with a lid and some holes for aeration

Bottom-Access Plastic Bin:

This type of compost bin features built-in aeration and a drop door at the bottom which helps to speed up the decomposition process and makes it easier to remove the finished compost while keeping pests away from food scraps.


Vermicomposting is a sustainable and eco-friendly method of composting that utilizes the natural abilities of earthworms to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich soil. vermicomposters rely on special species of worms. The most common is the red wiggler (Eisenia fetida) that consume the material within their enclosed habitat before converting it into usable fertilizer.

Check out my full article on the best composting worms that include a few other options!