Compost Fundamentals

Why Compost

Will Rogers, who lived through the great dust bowl once said: “They’re making more people every day—but they ain’t making any more dirt.”

Once soil is disturbed, we may not be able to restore it to its native state, but we can help build a new balance of beneficial soil organisms to support the desired vegetative life.

While it takes thousands of years for the earth’s forces to build good soil, we can help do this in 5 – 10 years by adding compost—which adds microorganisms, arthropods, worms, and humus to the soil. The word “compost” comes from Latin where it meant “to put together.” This is what we do when we compost—we put together the correct amounts of compostable materials to make a great soil amendment.

For centuries, farmers have made and used compost to improve soil. Composting is part of the earth’s biological cycle of growth and decay. Energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and nutrients from water and soil make plants grow. When they die and decompose through a complex process involving microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, insects, mites and worms, nutrients go back into the soil, and carbon dioxide back into the air. The humus remaining from this decay process provides soil with organic matter that can hold water and nutrients in the soil, making it easier to till.

Think of composting as the act of growing microorganisms. While a vegetable farmer is attuned to fertility, cultivation, water and seasonal needs of a crop, composters should consider their types of compostable materials, sometimes called feedstocks, how to prepare them, and their moisture needs to ensure quality compost. Actually, it is easier for composters to control compost pile conditions than it is for a farmer to control the weather.

This manual explains the many interdependent factors fundamental in planning composting projects or analyzing composting operations:

Biology and chemistry of compost

Compost needs (materials & methods to ensure quality compost)

Composter’s needs (considerations before choosing a compost method)

Compost benefits and uses


Whether you have a large operation, or a small backyard pile, whether you compost “hot” and fast, or “slow” and cold, making compost always involves the same biological principles. Composting methods may be different, depending on various conditions or economic considerations. When choosing what method to use, keep in mind all the factors to decide whether to pursue a traditional, well established compost plan or create another innovative method that can meet the same expectations


Why Compost | Biology & Chemistry | Compost Needs
Composter's Needs | Benefits & Uses | Conclusion

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