Composting is a fantastic way to get rid of food waste while also doing your part in being environmentally friendly. Despite being quite simple, many people refuse to engage in the act of composting as they have no way of knowing how exactly the process works. Contrary to popular belief, composting is neither expensive or difficult.
So, what are the different methods of composting? The different methods of composting are as follows:
- Open Air Composting, an easy backyard method of composting
- Direct Composting, another simple, old fashioned method of composting
- Tumbler Composting, a composting method that involves a bit of labor
- Worm Farm Composting, one of the most common composting methods
- EMO Composting, a basic indoor composting method
- Combination Composting, a composting method that combines others
In this post, I will explore why composting is so beneficial for you and the environment, everything you need to know before starting your compost, delve into the six different methods of composting, and discuss the rules you must follow in order to ensure the success of your compost.
The Three Types of Composting
When it comes to composting, there are plenty of different methods that you can use to produce the final soil that I want. However, in more general terms, there are really only three ‘types’ of composting processes that are used in each of these methods.
What do I mean by ‘types’ of composting?
What I am referring to is how the material is actually being broken down into soil or fertilizer. There are actually a few ways that food can be decomposed, and when it comes to the compost methods I discuss in the article, each method utilized one of these three types of composting.
The three methods of composting are:
- Aerobic Composting
- Anaerobic Composting
Let’s look at each of the three types a bit more in-depth.
This type of composting involves using air to help break down the organic material, which is why this type of compost needs to be turned over every few days. In addition to regular air exposure, lots of green matter is needed since the compost temperature will be quite high due to the bacteria and live organisms.
Moisture is also needed if your composting method uses aerobic composting. Without water, the odor from this compost type can be very strong.
Aerobic composting is usually the most common process used for outdoor composts.
As you might expect, anaerobic composting is basically the opposite of aerobic; while aerobic composting uses air exposure to help break down the material, this type of compost does not.
Since this type of compost does not get much oxygen exposure, it tends to smell quite putrid. Also, bad bacteria might grow and thrive in this type of compost, which can have negative effects on the final soil this compost produces.
For these reasons, anaerobic composting is not often used. However, this style of composting is easiest since it involves very little maintenance. It is most commonly used for indoor composts.
This style of composting is usually preferred compared to the other two since it typically produces some of the highest quality soil while also being one of the easiest to maintain.
Vermicomposting uses not only air and moisture but worms as well, which is why the material is broken down so efficiently with this type of composting. Since the worms do most of the work, all you need to do is make sure sufficient materials are added for them to eat and break down.
If you have space and the resources necessary to acquire worms, vermicomposting is arguably the best type of composting to use. That said, worms are live creatures, so the environment must be conducive for them to live.
Now that we’ve covered the basic three types of composting, let’s delve into six methods that you can use to get involved in the eco-friendly practice of composting.
The Six Methods of Composting Guide
Here is an overview of six excellent methods that anyone can use to start engaging in compost. These are some of the most common methods to get involved in ‘the art of composting’, whether you are simply starting yours in your kitchen or building one in the backyard.
Depending on your living situation and how much you want to invest in your composting project, some of these methods may appeal to you more so than others. Also, some of these composting methods have different purposes. Since we’ve included six different methods, at least one of these should work for you and your current environment.
The six methods are:
- Open Air Composting
- Direct Composting
- Tumbler Composting
- Worm Farm Composting
- EMO Composting
- Combination Composting
Let’s take a closer look and evaluate the pros and cons of each method.
Open Air Composting
Open-air composting is a method that involves regular maintenance and planning. Because this method uses the power of aerobic composting to work, it is necessary to regularly turn over the pile and ensure that it is receiving enough air.
For open-air composting, the actual set up is quite simple – all you need is either an open space or an overturned bin (with holes for oxygen) where you will throw away all your materials. In addition to air exposure, you will need to water the pile regularly so that it has sufficient moisture.
If done correctly, this compost will attract worms and bugs naturally. Sometimes, unfortunately, rats and other pests might find their way over as well, which you can’t really do much about except making sure the compost remains functioning despite the disturbance.
Direct composting is one of the easiest and cheapest composts to make and maintain.
In this method, all you need to do is dig a hole or trench to bury your food material in – that’s it. While this method might appeal to most, it is also the slowest to decompose since your material doesn’t get much exposure to air.
This method also limits what you can put in the trench to mostly fruits and vegetables since anything else will likely be dug up by birds and other pests.
Direct composting is a great option for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to put in and wants nothing more than a basic compost.
Tumbler composting involves the consistent turning of your pile so that all portions of your compost get access to air – typically, these tumbler bins are suspended in the air.
There are plenty of tumbler-style compost bins you can purchase on the market that allow for this method of composting, which makes it a great option for those who have a bit of money to spend upfront.
The downsides of this method are that it requires a bit of hard labor, so it is not intended for any weak, disabled, or elderly people, as the compost bin needs to be flipped regularly. When these bins are filled with dirt, they can be quite heavy.
Usually, those who engage in tumbler composting have a few bins at a time since they will eventually fill up. Also, since these bins hang above ground and have little heat, this method is best left for the summer months, or else the cold weather may inhibit decomposition.
Worm Farm Composting
As you might expect from the name, worm farm composting uses worms to help with decomposition, making this one of the most effective ways to run a compost. This method is one of the most popular because worms speed up the composting process greatly.
Since this method involves live worms, it also makes it one of the most difficult to balance – worms need a certain environment to stay alive, and oftentimes, composts can become uninhabitable if not done correctly. If the dirt becomes too hot or cold, the worms can die, making your compost worse off than before.
This is one of the best methods of composting if you are willing to put in the work and time to make sure your compost is a desirable habitat for your worms.
EMO stands for Effective Micro-Organisms; this is a method typically intended for indoor composts but can be used outdoors as well.
Basically, this method involves filling up a bin fully and then closing the top for a period of a week or more, allowing bacteria to flourish and break down the material.
This process relied only on bacteria to break down food materials. Since it does not use air or need turning over, it is a great method if you do not have access to a composting area outdoors.
While the type of waste you can use with an EMO compost is limited to only food scraps, it is perfect for small scale kitchen composting. There are many products available to purchase that are specifically designed for this method of composting.
Combination composting is just as the name suggests, a method that uses all the previous five methods in one way or another. It is a flexible way to compost, although it is best left for those with a bit of experience since the pile isn’t relying on only one method for decomposition.
Combination composting is when you don’t follow one specific method, but do whatever you please. Whether that means closing a bin off for two weeks, only to then dump it outside and add water, to then add worms in the summer, this method is simply an umbrella term for any compost that doesn’t stick to one particular method.
If you are familiar with composting, and know how to keep the pile in a state that promotes decomposition, feel free to give combination composting a shot.
Now that we’ve discussed the six methods for composting, let’s establish some rules to follow to ensure your compost’s success.
Rules of Composting
When it comes to the topic of what exactly you can and cannot put in compost, the lines sometimes get blurred. Due to the nature of what compost is, many people assume they can just throw any food products into their bin, which is not true.
There are also many natural materials that are okay for compost and some that are not, which I will also include.
Here are some of the foods and materials that you can put in your compost to help the decomposition process and the other ‘stuff’ that you need to avoid, or else you run the risk of damaging the effective ecosystem that is occurring inside your compost bin.
Acceptable Foods and Materials
Here are some of the foods and materials that you can throw into your compost:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Tea and teabags
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Paper, cardboard, and newspaper
- Yard trimmings
- Plants and leaves
- Small, thin wood
- Hair, fur, hay, and straw
These are only some of the many materials you can include in your compost.
Food and Materials to Avoid
Here are some foods and materials that might interrupt the environment in your compost:
- Meat and meat products
- Fairy products
- Fats and oils
- Pet feces
- Plants or trimmings that might be infected with pesticides
This list of food and materials to avoid putting in your compost is only the beginning- make sure to check online from a reputable source if you are unsure of whether a certain waste might have a negative impact on your compost.
Why You Should Compost
Composting, in a nutshell, is the breaking down (decomposing) of organic material. When this organic material is broken down, it creates powerful compost that is essentially a type of “soil conditioner,” a product added to soil to help grow whatever it is that is being grown.
One of the reasons composting is so popular is because the soil it produces is incredibly rich in nutrients and aids in plant growth, which is also why composting is so commonly associated with gardening. Research has actually shown that compost soil gives vegetables the power to fight common ailments they may otherwise face during growth, and also even enhances the nutritional value and overall flavor, too!
Not to worry- you do not need a garden to justify owning a compost! Plenty of homeowners appreciate the rich composting soil simply for growing their lawn, or other parts of their backyard. Many people have found the grass grown on their yard grows much faster and stronger when sprinkled with composting soil! You can also use compost for indoor potted plants as well, which will have the same effect as it would on a vegetable garden.
If you live somewhere with no access to open land at all, this isn’t a reason not to engage in composting. Many people all around the world enjoy composting just because they know it helps the earth in one way or another. Why throw out food waste in the trash when it can break down itself? There really is no need to place food in the garbage with other landfills.
The three main benefits of composting include:
- The creation of nutrient-dense soil and fertilizer
- Reducing local landfill amounts which also decreases the release of methane
- Minimizing your overall carbon footprint on the earth
No matter what your personal motivation for starting a compost is, you can take pride in knowing that you are having a positive impact on the planet, which, in modern times, is a valuable gift to the world.
Let’s breakdown the elements you need to have a successful compost.
The Elements Needed for Successful Composting
Making great compost is a process that is fundamentally scientific. While composting is a genuinely easy process that involves not much more than adding food scraps to a bin, it does require a successful combination of natural elements in order to produce the soil that composters appreciate so much.
It’s best to look at composting for what it is – controlled decomposition.
These elements that are needed for a successful compost are all products of the environment in which you will use to foster your composting project. Unfortunately, many people tend to overlook these necessary elements, and it can completely block the organic material from ever breaking down into compost.
To produce compost soil, you need a perfect environment for the live cultures to do their work. If they can’t do as they please, the food waste you dump into your compost will remain as they are – food waste.
If you want to create a productive compost producing machine, you need to make sure you are incorporating the following elements:
- Organic Matter
- Nutrient Balance
- Moisture (Water)
- Oxygen (Air)
Let’s look at each of these elements in depth to see what is really needed for excellent compost.
The basis of great composting is the material you feed into the actual compost. Naturally, the material that is being broken down to make soil is the very first step in the process, so it’s arguably of the most importance.
This means following the guidelines of what foods you should include in your compost, and which foods you should avoid (more on that later).
As you can expect, the first step to successful composting is only entering organic food material into the decomposing process. If you put in artificial or manufactured foods, these would not only be impossible to break down, but it would also impact the other materials’ ability to decompose.
Remember, your compost is an environment that is friendly to the live bacteria and cultures that work to break down your food into the soil – it’s your job to make a compost that is efficient as possible and helps in accelerating the decomposition process.
The first element of a successful compost is the organic matter you add to the mix.
The second element, nutrient balance, is one that a lot of compost owners seem to overlook. While many people seem to believe that any and all organic matter is useful for the composting process, it is actually true that a certain balance of material is also necessary.
The balance I am looking at for composting consists of what I call ‘green’ and ‘brown’ material.
- ‘Green’ organic material – includes nitrogen-rich material, such as grass, animal manure, and food scraps
- ‘Brown’ organic material – includes carbon-rich material, such as leaves, wood chips, and tree branches
This balance of nutrients and material will only help to create a great compost that breaks down your waste as fast as possible and produces high-quality soil.
This ‘balancing act’ is sometimes difficult; however, it is not essential to get it exactly right. It may take some experimentation and, occasionally, some failed attempts. Not to worry- a failed compost just means throwing it out and trying again.
The more experienced you are with composting, the better you’ll be at getting the right balance of green and brown material.
Most of us know the importance of water when it comes to growing plants, but some people forget it’s needed when it comes to the decomposition process!
Moisture is a crucial element in a compost. The organisms that help to break down organic material need water to survive, and also gives water-bound microbes direct access to the organic material.
If your compost is outside, it may already be getting enough water from natural rainfall. If you happen to be living somewhere that doesn’t get much rain or is going through a dry spell, make sure to add sufficient water every few days. If your compost is indoors, you must water it regularly, the same way you would if you were growing potted plants or flowers.
No matter what type of compost you have, water is a key ingredient to an efficient decomposition process, so make sure to take note of how much of it your compost is receiving.
The element of oxygen may seem one of the most obvious when it comes to composting, but many people seem to not realize how much they might be restricting airflow to their compost. In addition to this, a certain action is required of compost owners to ensure all material is exposed to oxygen to help with decomposition.
It is recommended to turn your compost every three or so days for optimal air exposure – doing so will expedite the decomposition process. Sometimes, if the pile is not turned every so often, the portion of your compost pile not exposed to air may heat to temperatures where microbes and organisms cannot survive.
You can also throw in ‘bulking agents’ such as wood chips and newspapers to help aerate the pile, which will have a similar effect of turning.
While oxygen is necessary for the composting process, make sure to not overdo it. Remember, moisture is also an essential element for compost, so too much air exposure will dry out the pile, therefore impeding the decomposition process.
The element of temperature also has a great impact on the decomposition process. As mentioned prior, the organisms that actually break down material are only able to survive in certain climates.
So, it’s good practice to try and control (as best you can) the temperature state in and around your compost. The activity of the microbes inside your compost will actually raise the temperature, which brings us back to the importance of turning your pile over regularly.
Low temperature promotes rotting, which you do not want. High temperatures may speed up the decomposition process so much so that it destroys some of the beneficial pathogens that you want in your final soil.
Controlling the temperature of your compost mostly involves the other elements we’ve mentioned- air exposure, moisture, organic material, and nutrient balance all go hand in hand in creating a temperature that works best in the decomposition process.
There’s a reason gardeners refer to compost as black gold – it is simply the best gift you can give to your garden, lawn, or plants. Also, composting is an incredibly environmentally conscious activity that helps to reduce your carbon footprint on the earth, something we need now more than ever.
If you’re interested in starting composting, take a look at any of the six methods we’ve included in this article. Surely one of these methods will be perfect for you and your current living situation, so don’t be afraid to start your composting project today – you’ll thank us later!