Sustainable Composting

Last Thursday as a part of my Sustainable Solutions course here at Muhlenberg, we installed a new composting system into the community garden. Below is some information on composting as well as photos taken during the installation. Shoutout to Nicole and Alex for being apart of a Killer Kompost Team

It is common knowledge that compost is used to enhance plant growth, whether it be for a small backyard garden or a local organic farm. In scientific terms, composting involves the natural decomposition of unconsumed organic waste, which is altered into nutrients to be consumed by plant life. In regards to organic agriculture and recreational gardening, compost is used to give plants additional nutrients to enhance growth and fruit production, and outpace the growth of weeds.

But how is compost done? Three key ingredients are needed:

  • Container: The compost needs to be in a container while it is undergoing decomposition, as it can be severely diluted during harsh weather, and also helps save space by condensing the compost into a smaller area. The container can be in the form of a garbage container with drilled holes, a wire bin, a rotating bin called a “tumbler”, and others.
  • Uneaten organic matter: This should not include any meats, fish, or oils. These substances can attract unwanted critters such as raccoons or bears.
  • Soil: This must be mixed in with the organic matter, as it contains the microorganisms necessary to catalyze the composting process.

The entire process is catalyzed by microorganisms feeding on organic matter, which can range from apple cores, to shredded newspaper, to wood chips. These microorganisms consume water, oxygen, and the organic matter in a process called respiration. During respiration these organisms create a material called humus, which is rich in carbon and inorganic nutrients. These nutrients include nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, which are key to the growth and health of plant life.

But during this process, it is essential that the compost is turned and lightly watered on a regular basis, have only small pieces of organic matter, and adding a small portion of soil with each new organic waste ingredient. Turning the compost and lightly watering it give the microorganisms responsible for the breakdown process given oxygen and water, key ingredients for respiration. Having small pieces of organic matter as opposed to larger ones hastens decomposition, as microorganisms can consume smaller pieces faster. Finally, adding a small portion of soil after each new piece of organic waste ensures that there is enough medium to hold the nutrients produced from the decayed organic matter.

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