What is composting?
Composting is a biological process that transforms organic waste into a substrate rich in nutrients for vegetation. As happens in nature, the soil and plants derive nourishment from their waste: dry leaves, fallen twigs, remains of animals and insects; organic material which, thanks to the action of bacteria and fungi, is decomposed and transformed into soft soil rich inhumus, which performs very important functions:
- Improves the structure of sandy soils
- It prevents the soil from drying out by promoting water retention
- It increases the porosity of the soil, favoring its ventilation
- Makes clayey soils softer and easier to work
- Acts as a slow-releasing reserve of nutrients for vegetation
- Binds harmful elements such as heavy metals making them no longer available for absorption by living organisms.
Current cultivation practices tend to deplete the organic substance in the soil, thus forcing the use of chemical fertilizers to ensure the plants have a correct supply of nutrients.
While the use of synthetic fertilizers satisfies crop needs, it does not allow the replenishment of the reserve of organic matter essential for the life of decomposing organisms and consequently for the life of plants. Instead, this happened when agriculture was able to guarantee the return of organic matter to the soil with the use of animal waste such as manure and sewage.
Composting simply reproduces this natural process in a more controlled way and with considerably shorter times. in order to obtain a stabilized material compatible with use in agriculture or gardening as a organic fertilizer and soil improver.
The process of transformation into compost is defined as biological because much of the merit of the transformation is of the decomposing organisms contained in the soil and in the waste that degrade and transform the organic substance; therefore, in order for the process to develop adequately and in shorter times than natural ones, the ideal living conditions for these microorganisms must be maintained.
To start the composting process, you must first have the necessary tools, namely a composter, organic waste, and garden soil.
in general, a composter is a container suitable for housing waste that is decomposing and transforming into compost. This is why it must allow good ventilation, it must offer protection from atmospheric agents and animals, and be robust and durable. There are "do-it-yourself" alternatives such as old wooden boxes, or metal bins (without the bottom and pitted) or using bricks and wood, but the most convenient, quick and lasting solution is the purchase of a ready-made composter, usually they are produced in recycled plastic, ready to use, with a capacity of 300 liters, therefore suitable for domestic use. Composters of this type consist of three parts: the upper part , consisting of a large door, through which the waste, the central body, is introduced into the which fermentation takes place, equipped with an opening to collect the compost and side air intakes that allow the recirculation of oxygen, and a base, formed by a grid and a cone that allow a regular ventilation in all points of the organic mass, thus ensuring the absence of bad odors.
Before filling with the organic material it is necessary, only for the first use, to insert two buckets of garden earth inside the composter, then proceed to add the organic material, it is good to add the latter on a daily basis or in short intervals of time, in order to avoid accumulating too high quantities of organic waste, both for hygienic reasons and because adding too large masses of organic material risks overloading the composter and consequently slow down the decomposition process.
The use of the composter has some indisputable advantages:
- It guarantees a better use of space and is therefore recommended for those with confined spaces
- It is preferable for hygienic reasons, as the waste is protected from contact with pets and children, and also protects against bad odors
- Maintains the right level of humidity
- Promotes faster decomposition
- Protects the compost from atmospheric agents
- It makes the daily introduction of even modest quantities of waste more convenient
What to use?
The raw materials for the production of compost are organic waste (remains of fruit, vegetables, food scraps, dry leaves, twigs, etc.) while they are to be absolutely avoided i inorganic waste and synthetic substances (glass, plastic, metal, painted materials, batteries, etc...). However, if it is true that all food waste and plant elements are biologically convertible into compost, not all of them have the same potential for decomposition and the same fertilizing efficacy: there are substances that are transformed more slowly than others, and elements that are not treated by decomposing organisms, in particular the following materials must never be introduced , as they are hardly biodegradable:
- Kernels and walnut shells
- Meat bones and fish bones in large quantities
- Coupled cardboard containers (tetrapak)
- Inked, coated or laminated paper
- Synthetic fabrics
Some materials, although of an organic nature, and therefore theoretically compostable, are less suitable for the production of compost and therefore must be inserted with criteria:
- Citrus peels (often treated with preservatives, they are slow decomposition)
- Fish, meat and cured meats (although they degrade easily and are rich in nitrogen, they can attract the attention of insects, rodents and other unwanted animals)
- Animal droppings (they may contain pathogenic germs and parasite eggs, so they are to be avoided for hygienic reasons)
Instead, you have to use and are extremely suitable:
- Fruit and food leftovers
- Tea and coffee grounds filters
- Ink-free (even greasy) paper and cardboard
- Pot plants, flowers and soil
- Biodegradable small animal litter
- Hair and feathers
- Wood chips
Fundamental parameters to observe: Oxygen and Humidity.
Oxygen: the microorganisms responsible for the decomposition of organic substances need oxygen to live, the surest way to guarantee this precious resource is the mixing of waste with a high quantity of water (fruit remains, food leftovers, coffee and tea grounds ) with dry and woody scraps (dry leaves, broken twigs, paper, ash), in order to give the mass an optimal structure, preventing it from compacting and creating a network of interstices in which air can circulate. If the compost tends to compact it will need to be worked through a fork or similar tool, in order to restore proper ventilation.
Humidity: it is a fundamental parameter as all living organisms need water for survival, without adequate humidity (40% minimum) the transformation reactions would suffer an abrupt slowdown of the process or even its stop. To measure the humidity of the compost, there is a very simple empirical system, you take a handful of compost in your hand and clench in your fist, an ideal moisture texture leaves your hand slightly damp. If the hand remains dry, it means that water must be added to the substrate, if it is too wet, dry waste must be added to absorb excess moisture.
Drawbacks and solutions:
it may happen that things do not go as they should and that more or less annoying inconveniences occur, especially for those who are struggling with home composting for the first time. The following are the problems that may arise and some tips to solve them:
- Presence of unwanted guests (rodents and other animals): is due to the accumulation of fresh and uncovered materials (meat, fish, cured meats ...) to avoid this problem just cover the material immediately fresh with other material already composted or with simple soil
- Formation of bad odors: this is due to an excess of nitrogen (too much food waste compared to dry waste) and the absence of oxygen in the composter, to solve this problem just insert more dry waste such as dry leaves and twigs and turn the compost over to mix them well
- Slow composting process: the problem has the opposite cause to that seen previously, i.e. too much dry waste, to solve it just add wet waste (fruit, kitchen waste, etc...) and turn the compost
Compost management and use times:
Fresh compost: this term refers to compost matured from 2 to 4 months . Fresh compost can be used on flower beds, in the vegetable garden or at the base of trees, preferably in autumn, incorporating it into the surface layer of the soil or at the end of spring, when the plants are already in an advanced stage of vegetation, this is because the fresh compost is rich in organic substances and fertilizing elements that plants need during the flowering and fruiting phase. It is highly not recommended instead to use fresh compost as soil for potting flowers and plants, as the decomposition processes are still active and would damage the roots of the plants.
Ready compost: This is how you can define compost that is aged between 6 and 9 months . This type of compost has a lower fertilizing effect than fresh compost, but has a better stabilization , as the decomposition process takes place very slowly, so it can be used to fertilize the soil in preparation for sowing of plants or to carry out transplants .
Mature compost: after from 9 to 12 months the compost can be defined as mature, during this period there is a reduction in weight and volume of the organic mass. This type of compost can be used as a substrate for pot plants, as it does not damage the roots, and it can also be used as a substrate for the cultivation of any garden plant. or in the garden, right from sowing. It is the most suitable compost for indoor plants .
As we have seen, therefore, composting is not only a good practice for disposing of organic waste in a sustainable way but it is also a method that allows to obtain a high quality product , both that it is used as a substrate for the germination and growth of plants, and that it is used as a fertilizer to stimulate the flowering and fruiting processes.
By clicking the image below you can download our PDF with the complete guide to home composting: