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What is Composting?

Composting is a process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil  through decomposition. The end product is called compost – a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material. Dead plants,  leaves, and other organic (non-animal)  materials are piled up and watered. They may be covered with straw, cloth, or plastic to generate heat. Microorganisms feed on the materials added to the compost pile during the composting process. They use carbon and nitrogen to grow and reproduce, water to digest materials, and oxygen to breathe. Eventually the material in the pile break down, and create a nutrient-rich soil.

The ingredients for composting include a proper balance of the following materials:

  • Carbon-rich materials (“browns”) can include dry leaves, plant stalks, and twigs. The carbon-rich materials provide food for the microorganisms to consume and digest.
  • Nitrogen-rich materials (“greens”) include grass clippings and food  scraps/plant remains. The nitrogen-rich materials heat up the pile to create ideal conditions for the material to breakdown. 
  • Water (moisture).
  • Air (oxygen).
As the materials in the compost pile begin to decompose, the temperature of the pile will initially begin to rise, especially in the center. The  temperature  should reach between 130° to 160° F. High temperatures help reduce the presence of pathogens and weed seeds.   The pile is turned and mixed periodically to speed up the decomposition process and aerate the pile.

Compost in a well-maintained pile will be finished and ready for use in about three to five months.  The compost will look dark, loose, and crumbly and smell like fresh soil. Most, if not all, of the materials that went into the compost pile should be decomposed. 

At the Emerson Avenue Garden, several compost bins have been erected and a full-scale composting system is in place, managed by volunteers.