As you continue to nurture and care for your garden, you may become interested in creating your own compost. Compost is a type of organic matter that can be added to soil to help facilitate the growth of plants. By choosing to compost waste in your yard and daily food scraps, you can prevent these waste materials from being added to landfills where they produce gasses that harm the environment.
Composting introduces a range of benefits to any garden space. These benefits can typically include reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers, improving the quality of soil, reducing the risk of pests and pathogens that can have a detrimental impact on plants, and lowering your household’s carbon footprint. Certain types of composting methods also have their unique benefits to offer.
This guide will address aerobic composting, anaerobic composting, and vermicomposting. The main difference between aerobic versus anaerobic composting is whether the microorganisms used will need oxygen as they consume and decompose waste and scraps. Aerobic microorganisms require air, whereas anaerobic microorganisms do not. Thus, aerobic composting is typically set up in open-air arrangements or may even be simplified to an openly accessible decomposing pile of organic matter. In contrast, vermicomposting is another unique method of composting that uses worms to contribute to the natural decomposition of organic matter.
Compost Method #1: Aerobic Composting
If you need to produce compost in a shorter period and want a simple introductory experience, aerobic composting may be an ideal match. Aerobic microorganisms can produce compost within a much faster timeline compared to anaerobic decomposers and produce the best results when there is enough aeration in the pile of organic matter. You can ensure your pile has adequate airflow by placing your organic materials on top of another object, such as small crates or shipping pallets that have space underneath for continual air passage.
As decomposition continues over time, your compost pile will likely begin to visibly shrink. When this happens, you should stir the compost or flip the pile into another location to facilitate airflow again. Additionally, please be aware that it is normal for your compost pile to give off heat; this is typically the result of aerobic microorganisms consuming organic matter and contributing to the decomposition process. This heat is helpful and necessary because it will ultimately kill harmful bacteria or pathogens that may otherwise develop at lower temperatures.
Compost Method #2: Anaerobic Composting
All anaerobic microorganisms function without the need for air or oxygen, which is why this type of composting arrangement typically occurs underground or in trenches that are covered with soil. Anaerobic composting is less commonly used because it takes longer to produce compost, and likewise, can be challenging to maintain since the heap of organic matter is buried underneath soil. Therefore, although you can regularly check on the status of aerobic compost, the same is less likely to be done with anaerobic compost and this leaves less room for mistakes. In comparison to aerobic decomposers, anaerobic typically have much lower temperatures, which also makes it less effective for destroying bacteria or pathogens.
Anaerobic composting is a great idea if you don’t want to openly display heaps of decomposing compost in your yard or if you have a significant volume of organic matter and waste that you want to compost over an extended length of time without having to consistently monitor the progress. It is also a great option if you are planning on planting flowers or similar plants in the future because it can improve soil fertility and structure in the area where your future compost has been buried underground.
Compost Method #3: Vermicomposting
Vermicomposting is a type of composting that relies on worms and their digestive system. Although there are a variety of worms that can be used for vermicomposting, red wigglers (Eisenia fetida) are the most common and recommended worms for this process. Since this method relies on the number of scraps that the worms can eat, some general calculations need to be made to determine how many pounds of worms are necessary for your composting project.
Generally speaking, 1 pound of worms is usually equal to 1,000 worms per bin, and 1,000 worms are capable of eating half a pound of food scraps per day. Since an average family of four will produce 1 pound of food scraps per day, 2 pounds of worms or 2,000 worms will be necessary to digest the total output of scraps and waste produced by the family. Considerations must also be taken regarding the length of the area required for the worms to eat and function effectively, which at a minimum should be around five square feet.
Vermicomposting can introduce several benefits such as improvement of soil structure, adding nutrients to pre-existing soil, increasing beneficial bacteria, improving internal drainage in heavy soil, and increasing the soil’s ability to hold nutrients in a way that will be most accessible to the plants embedded in the soil. Worms are also fairly versatile eaters and can digest foods such as eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, plain bread and pasta, and coffee grounds. Some worms are also capable of digesting dryer lint composed of natural fibers, although this is typically less recommended since some dryer lint may contain chemicals or unexpected types of fiber.
At a minimum, your compost will not be ready for use until at least three months after the initial installation of your worm kits. Sometimes it can take up to six months to produce compost via vermicomposting, although your compost will typically be ready to use within four and a half months in total. During the harvesting process, you will need to separate the worms from the compost that you plan on using; although some worms will likely die during the composting process, you should be able to save the majority of the worms for your next batch.
Overall, creating your own compost is a great skill to have if you enjoy tending to a garden. Not only is it eco-friendly, it will also prove to be cost-effective since you will spend less money on mainstream soil brands that are already enriched. Consider the total amount of time that you want to dedicate to composting and when you want to ideally have compost that is ready to use, as well as the amount of space available in your yard for the process; these factors will strongly inform the composting method that you will use for your future project.