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how to compost manual

Some Background

What follows is a lot of information that will help you to make the best compost possible in an efficient manner.  You can customize your compost and increase your output by taking note of the information presented.  However, if you never read the following; or don't adhere to every detail ... so what?  If you only use a composter to contain your leaves and grass clippings, and otherwise forget about it ... in time you will have compost.  It's that easy.  Reading and applying the principles in this manual will allow you to make a higher quality compost in a shorter amount of time.

Composting in general

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of making compost, let's expand our discussion of composting in general, and get some important background information  (painlessly introducing small amounts of science along the way).  As a society, we tend to notice and appreciate the production process, and ignore or find distasteful the decomposition process ... yet the decomposition processes must occur in order to recycle the basic building blocks required by the productive processes.  Commonly, most paths taken by household wastes carry potential plant fertilizer away from the house.  Ideally, household waste that is suitable for reclamation should be processed at the homesite to extract the valuable nutrients; saving you money, providing a superior fertilizer-conditioner, and easing the burden on municipal services.

Basically, composting is an imitation and acceleration of the natural process of decay.  It is a process that returns the nutrients "borrowed" by the plant for its growth back to the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue.  Compost, in its broad definition, has existed ever since green plants invaded the land.  Any vegetation that falls to the ground and decomposes aerobically  (meaning it uses oxygen as part of the decomposition process), turns into compost.  Anything that was once living will be broken down by other living organisms into its simplest elements.


Soil is much more than simply pulverized rock.  It is teeming with many forms of life, each of which plays a vital role in the overall productivity and quality of the soil.  A whole world of animals, plants and microorganisms derive their existence from the decomposition process.  Most of the work is done by the decomposer bacteria, molds and fungi.  These organisms are even able to release the inorganic forms of some minerals such as potassium and phosphorus by the action of the organic acids they produce.  These smaller microorganisms are aided in their work by a group of larger animals known as detritivores.  These are the commonly seen, but generally despised bugs, beetles, mites, worms, etc.  They eat just about anything, and in the process, break up the materials to expose many more surfaces to the microorganisms.  By adding organic materials to the soil, gardeners improve the structure of the soil  (better aeration and moisture retention) and feed the beneficial organisms in the soil (encouraging more to live at your place).

Why Compost?

You might ask, "If any organic matter is going to decay without my help, why not just throw any vegetative material on hand on the ground and let the worms drag it down?".  Well you can, but you will be doing your garden a temporary disservice.  The reason is that the organisms that eat the organic matter use a lot of nitrogen in the process, taking it from the soil, which leaves any plants trying to also use that nitrogen temporarily starved.  Temporarily, because when the bacteria have done their job and decomposed the organic matter, they die; releasing the nitrogen again, plus any nitrogen the vegetative material had.  So you get it back ... you just have to wait for it.  A better and faster method is to put all your vegetative matter in a compost pile where you supply the necessary nitrogen.

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