How to Compost at home

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How to Compost at home | Types | Process

Composting is the natural process of decaying and decomposition of plant and animal residues. In the process of decomposition, all the materials will break down into smaller particles and release nutrients into the soil and hence favors the development of plants.

compost


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Nutrient composition of the compost:

Compost that is prepared from farm organic bio-wastes contains the following primary nutrient composition.

S. no

Nutrient

Percentage

1

Nitrogen

0.5

2

Phosphorus

0.15

3

Potassium

0.5

 

In other words, rotten mass prepared from decaying and decomposition of organic waste is called compost. Conducting composting has many advantages to go for. It benefits the soil, benefits nature, and benefits plants.

 Go through the links below to know about other types of composting:
1Aerobic composting and its types
2Anaerobic composting and its types
3Indoor /bokashi method of composting
4Vermicomposting
5Special methods of composting (Indore, Banglore, Coimbatore, NADEP)


 Benefits of composting: 

In all the ways composting benefits every part of the ecosystem. Something going waste is converted into a useful product that is rich in many nutrients is of course beneficial to all the elements of this ecosystem like soil, environment, and plants. Let's discuss them one by one. 

 

Benefits of using compost in soil: 

adding compost to soil

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  • The addition of compost into the soil decreases the compactness and increases the porosity of heavy soils. and make it ideal for root penetration and plant growth. hence indirectly improves the soil structure. 
  • Compost or organic matter in the soil increases the water holding capacity of the soil. water absorption and retention functions are also carried out by organic matter/compost in the soil. Thereby reducing the water requirement of plants.
  • The addition of compost serves as food for the healthy microorganisms, thus they will help in building the structure of the soil. 
  • Regeneration of old soils can be done by the addition of humus and organic matter. 
  • Compost helps in binding the surface soil particles and thereby reduces soil erosion by wind and water. 
  • The presence of compost in the soil increases the airflow ( oxygen) in soil and benefits in roots respiration. 

Benefits of composting to environment:

 benefits of compost to environmentimage source

  •  Composting is the microbiological process of breaking down of bio-wastes. Thereby it reduces the flow of waste in the environment. 
  • Recycling waste into useful manure.
    Dumping waste can create many diseases for humans as well as animals. Composting avoids this process.
  • Reduces the release of harmful gases from the piles of waste:
    • When waste in landfills undergoes the natural anaerobic process of decomposition it releases two important greenhouse gases. They are Carbon dioxide and Methane. They trap heat in the atmosphere and increases the earth's temperature. 
    • Composting reduces the greenhouse effect by controlling the release of methane and carbon dioxide into the environment. 

 

Benefits of using compost to the plants: 

benefits of compost to plants
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  • Compost serves as a source of major nutrients to plants.
  • Compost or organic manure will have micronutrients and some trace elements, which are not commonly found in other fertilizers.
  • Reduces volatilization loss of nitrogen, by converting it into stable proteins. So that plant can utilize nitrogen slowly 
  • Compost slowly releases nutrients to plants for more than one growing season. so the plant will get a stable supply of nutrients throughout the growing season 
  • Plant escapes from deficiency symptoms caused by micronutrients and trace elements. Because compost will provide most of the nutrients for plants. 
  • Compost improves soil structure, makes soil less compact, and makes it easy for roots penetration into the growing media, 

 

Phases of composting: 

Composting is a biochemical process where organic matter is decomposed and converted into compost by the action of aerobic or anaerobic microorganisms. This process of decomposition happens in three phases. they are 

  1. Mesophilic phase l 
  2. Thermophilic phase 
  3. Cooling or Mesophilic phase ll and
  4. Maturation phase
phases of composting

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Mesophilic phase l : Readily degradable organic matter (OM) will be decomposed at this stage through mesophilic microbes by utilizing carbon and nitrogen from the parent material (OM). The temperature of the compost increases (up to 45℃) due to the heat produced in the process of breakdown of soluble compounds. This entire process results in acid production and a decrease in pH  (4.0 - 4.5) levels in the compost bin.

     
    Thermophilic phase: As the temperature of the compost reaches above  45℃, mesophilic microbes are replaced by thermophilic microbes that can survive at higher temperatures. At 55-60℃  these microbes decompose proteins, fats along with complex organic matter like cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin which are structural components of plants. At this stage pH levels increases due to the breakdown of the components. As the temperature rises to 60-65℃ at this stage contaminants like weed seeds, fecal bacteria, fungal/bacterial spores, eggs, or cysts present in the compost pile get destroyed. This is why this phase is also known as hygienization.

       
      Mesophilic phase ll: At this stage, the temperature of the compost drops as the carbon and nitrogen sources get exhausted (i.e. Microbes decomposed most of the organic matter of the compost). When the temperature goes below 40℃, mesophilic microbes again come into action and perform polymer degradation and results in the increase of pH (compost remains slightly alkaline (7.0 - 8.0). As the temperature of the compost decreases, this stage is also known as a cooling phase.

         
        Maturation phase: The temperature drops down to 20-30℃. Maturation of the compost (OM) takes place by the process of condensation and polymerization.

           

          Role of microorganisms in the process of composting: 

          Microorganisms are the main players in the process of composting. They actively take part in the process of breaking down larger bio-wastes into smaller ones and help in releasing the nutrients during the process of composting. An adequate supply of water, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen supports the survival of microorganisms those take part in the breakdown of waste. Carbon acts as a food source for micro-organisms.

           

          composting microorganisms
          image source

           

          Microorganism

          Role of microorganism

          Bacteria

          Exist in mesophilic and thermophilic stages. At higher temperatures survive by forming endospores, thickened walls that are resistant to extreme conditions (like heat, cold, dryness, no food). In favorable conditions, they become active again.

          Protozoans

          Active during the initial phase of composting and play very little role in the breakdown of organic matter. They are present in water droplets in the compost pile and feeds on organic matter, bacteria and fungi as well.

          Fungi/ mold

          Help in decomposing complex material (like cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose, etc.) And hard to degrade materials like bark, woody stems, newspaper, cardboard, etc. They are efficient in mesophilic and thermophilic phases. They live in the upper layers of the compost at high temperatures and include mushrooms, molds, and yeasts.

          Actinomycetes

          Play important role in breaking down the complex compounds and hard to degrade materials. They appear as long thread-like filaments or circular colonies on the upper layers of the compost.  They appear from the thermophilic phase to the maturation phase.

          Rotifers

          These are present in water films of the compost. Rotifers also feed on bacteria and fungi along with organic matter.

           

          These groups of microorganisms work at different temperatures on the bio-waste present in the pile and help to convert waste into manure. 

          What can be composted: 

          vegetable waste for composting grass clippings for composting

          straw for composting fallen leaves for composting

          image source, image source, image address, image source

          If you are a beginner in the process of composting, first you need to know the components that can be added to the composting process. Here is a list of materials that can be used and cannot be used for composting. let's check it out, 

          Greens to add in composting 

          Browns to add in composting 

           Don't compost 

          Grass clippings

          Straw/ hay

          Ash of coal & charcoal 

          Coffee grounds 

          Sawdust

          Fats, grease, oil

          Teabags

          Tree branches/ bark

          Meat, fish, poultry scarp

          Vegetables and fruit peels

          Fallen leaves

          dairy products, eggs

          Eggshells

          Pine needles 

          Insect ridden plants

          Veggie & fruits

          Twigs

          Dog & cat pet wastes 

          Trimmings from plants

          Chipped tree branches

          Glass materials

          Weeds without seeds

          Newspaper

          Iron pieces 

          Animal manures except for cat & dog

          Printing paper, paper plates, napkins, coffee filters, Cotton fabric

          Wooden pieces treated with chemicals

          Seaweed 

          Corrugated cardboard 

          Plastic, Diseased plant parts

           

          Greens and Browns:

          green waste browns to compost
          image source, image source

          Greens have high nitrogen content while browns have carbon content. It is ideal to use 1 part of greens with 2-4 parts of browns to balance the carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio in your compost pile. Usually, the C:N ratio of the compost should be. Too many greens make the pile watery, smelly, and anaerobic while too many browns make the pile dry and delay breaking down. 

          you can manage the compost pile by adding browns when it is watery and greens when it is dry.

          Aerobic method of composting: 

          aerobic composting
          image source

          Aerobic refers to the presence of oxygen. The process of composting in the presence of air/ oxygen is referred to as aerobic composting. The microorganisms that work on the bio-waste require enough amount of oxygen to respire and break down the waste material. We need to maintain the proper amount of air and temperature in the aerobic composting process to get the best output. Many ways of composts can be done aerobically. they are

          1. Aerated static pile composting 
          2. In-vessel composting
          3. LFC
          4. Traditional bio degrader
          5. windrow composting

           Click the link to know more about this method in detail.

          Factors affecting aerobic composting:

          Air: Aeration plays a very important role in aerobic respiration as the microbes which help in the decomposition of organic matter require oxygen to thrive and multiply in the container/pile. Low oxygen levels results in fewer microbes and slow decomposition. Besides oxygen distribution, aeration also helps in eliminating excess heat, moisture, and unwanted gases trapped in the pile. 

          aerating system of the compost piles
          image source

          Air content in the pile mainly depends on particle size and bulking potential of the organic matter. Although aeration/turning of piles is not easy in every aerobic composting process, it needs to be carried out manually/mechanically. 

           
          Moisture: Since air diffuses into the moisture, it acts as medium from which microbes extract oxygen. So maintaining optimum moisture (50-60%) in the pile/container is very important for a good rate of decomposition. Low moisture content results in slower decomposition while high moisture content results in anaerobic conditions. At the final stage/for storage compost should contain 30-40% moisture.

           
          Nutrients: Along with oxygen/air, microbes also need nutrition for their survival. They obtain their nutrition from wastes that need to be composted. Nutrients are nothing but C:N ratio, phosphorus, potassium. Microbes need these nutrients in excess amounts. The optimum C:N ratio of organic wastes should be 25-30:1. C:N ratio less than the optimum level results in loss of excess nitrogen into the atmosphere in the form of ammonia and nitrous oxide. While higher than optimum level results in limiting growth of microbes.

          nutrient rich compost 
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          Temperature: Temperature plays a very important role in destroying pathogens (at 55℃) in the compost pile. The temperature in the compost bin increases/decreases due to the activity (breakdown of compounds) of mesophilic (20-45℃) and thermophilic (50-70℃) microbes present in it and this increase/decrease of temperature is important in carrying forward and completing the process of composting. Reduced activity of microbes results in slower breakdown and less heat production that leads to longer periods of composting. 

           
          pH: The pH of the compost alters throughout the composting process due to the degradation of materials. The pH of the compost gets decreased due to the formation of acids (as a result of initial degradation) and favors the growth of actinomycetes and fungi that help in breaking down the complex structural compounds like cellulose, lignin at 55-60℃. while a pH range between 5.0-8.0 supports the microbial activity and is ideal to get quality compost.

           

          Advantages and disadvantages of aerobic composting:

          Advantages of aerobic composting 

          Disadvantages of aerobic composting 

          Any organic waste can be composted 

          Need to maintain adequate moisture & air/ oxygen level

          Mimics the natural process of composting 

          A lot of maintenance

          Easy to start the process 

          Need a balance between greens and browns 

          Minimal odour Labour intensive at large scale
          Fast degradation of the materials Aerating large piles is a task
          No methane (greenhouse gas) production

           

          Anaerobic method of composting: 

          Anaerobic refers to the absence of air/ oxygen. Break down of waste in the absence of oxygen/air is known as anaerobic composting. In the absence of air, aerobic microorganisms will die, which leads to the development of microbes that can survive under the absence of air. The principle involved in the process of anaerobic composting is fermentation. The fermentation process leads to the development of the pickled product. 

           Usually, in the anaerobic process of composting, we have to undertake two steps to get the final output of manure. Once the pickled product forms it needs to be mixed with soil/ cocopeat for further process of composting. Here again, aerobic microbes take a role in the breakdown of fermented bio-waste into compost.

          some of the ways of anaerobic composting are:

          1. bokashi method
          2. trench method

          Bokashi method:

           Trustbin - Indoor composter

          Bokashi’s method of composting is one of the important types of anaerobic composting. The principle that works here is also the fermentation method. Anaerobic microbes develop and ferment the bio-waste and it also releases liquid fertilizer. This liquid fertilizer can be utilized as plant foliar spray and for soil drenching of plants. It will be rich in many micronutrients and trace elements. Trustbin is a product that provides all the materials required and allows you to facilitate bokashi method of composting right at your home.

          In this bokashi method of composting, acidic conditions will be created, this kills most of the pathogenic organisms in the compost. It works best with N/Nitrogen-rich materials. Avoid adding browns. It generally takes a longer period to prepare compost anaerobically but by using trustbin indoor composter, compost can be prepared within 40 days right at your home. It is a very easy-to-use and odour free process to prepare compost for your plants. 

          Click the link to know the detailed process of "Trustbin Indoor Composter" or Bokashi method of composting.

          Trench method of composting:

          Trench composting
          image source

          It is also an anaerobic process of composting. It may take a longer time than composting in bins but contains a higher nitrogen percent than other composts. You can easily follow this method of composting in your gardens by digging long and deep pits and burying organic wastes into them. You can grow plants on these trenches by which nutrients are available to plants right at the root level.

          click the link to know the detailed process of trench composting


          Advantages of anaerobic composting 

          Disadvantages of anaerobic composting 

          Anything can be added for decomposition 

          Takes a longer time for composting

          Less/ no odor 

          First is the fermentation 

          Less maintenance  

          The second process is curing with soil/ cocopeat 

           

          It generally takes a longer period to prepare compost anaerobically. but by using trustbin indoor composter, compost can be prepared within 40 days right at your home. it is a very easy-to-use and odour free process to prepare compost for your plants. 

           

          Difference between aerobic and anaerobic composting: 

          Aerobic composting

          Anaerobic composting

          Regular turning is important

          Do not require turning

          Wastes like dairy products, poultry and fish waste, raw or cooked meat are not recommended (composting at home) to avoid odour issues

          All these wastes can go into an anaerobic composting as the bin/pit is maintained airtight.

          C:N ratios need to be maintained carefully

          Can be neglected to some extent

          Farm wastes, garden wastes can be composted along with food wastes

          Those should be avoided in the case of the bokashi method but can be used in other types of anaerobic composting

          Associated with foul/bad odours

          No odour problems, as composting is done in closed conditions

          Attract rodents, flies when composted in heaps

           these problems can be avoided as it is carried out in trenches/pits or in air tight conditions.
          fast degradation of the materials degradation rate is slow when compared to aerobic composting.


          Vermicompost:

          Vermicompost
          image source

          Another method of composting is vermicomposting. earthworms are mainly used for this method of composting. they are allowed to feed on vegetable waste, cow dung, fruit peels with an adequate amount of moisture to obtain castings that are rich in nutrients. Yes, Vermicompost is the castings (worm castings) of earthworms. Red wigglers (Eisenia foetida) are the important group of earthworms that are mostly used in this process.


          Composition of Vermicompost:

          Vermicompost contains most macronutrients, and its nutrient composition is often greater than the garden soil. 

          Element

          Content

          Organic carbon

          9-17%

          Nitrogen

          1.5 - 2.1 %

          Phosphorus

          1.0 - 1.5 %

          Potassium

          0.15 - 0.5 %

           

          Advantages of vermicompost:

          • It improves soil structure and texture
          • It improves the aeration of the soil
          • Attracts deeply burrowed earthworms
          • Increases the water-holding capacity
          • Free of weed seeds, chemicals, and harmful pathogens.
          • Do not possess a bad smell
          • It can be used as a soil conditioner or amendment.

          Click the link to get detailed information on vermicomposting.


          The best composting methods for urban gardeners:  

          If you are living in an urban area but loves to grow plants, check here how can you grow your plants organically with a very limited amount of space. By using optimum composting methods that can suit your less available space, you can start recycling the waste that is created in your kitchen instead of throwing that into the landfills. Here is a list of easy composting methods for urban gardeners. 

          1. trench composting
          2. Bokashi composting
          3. Vermicomposting 
          4. composting in bins 

          trench method vermicompost
          composting in binsBokashi method of composting using Trustbin

          image source, image source image source

          Putting waste in landfills creates a lot of problems for the environment and indirectly to us. Throwing food waste/ bio-waste into the landfills liberates methane into the environment. Methane is a major greenhouse gas that becomes the reason for the trapping of heat into the earth's atmosphere. It creates a greenhouse effect and increases the earth's temperature.  The best way to solve all these problems is to recycle bio-waste instead of throwing them into landfills. 

            you can try the above listed composting methods right at your home using your garden and kitchen wastes.


            Special types of composting methods: 

            These methods are followed when preparing compost on a large scale. Some of them are

            1. Indore method
            2. Bangalore method
            3. Coimbatore method
            4. NADEP method
            Bangalore method of composting

            NADEP method of composting
            image source, image source

             

            Click the link to know more about special types of composting methods

            Key problems & how to overcome them during composting: 

            1. Type of waste to add-in: 

              You might be having a doubt about which type of food or waste to use in the composting process. Whether it is aerobic or anaerobic composting, here is brief information on which type of waste to use in the composting process. If it is aerobic composting use an equal proportion of greens and browns. Greens here refers to nitrogen-rich, water-rich fruits, and vegetable peels. Browns here refer to the dried leaves, dried twigs, and branches of the plant, cardboard, tissue paper, printing papers, etc. can be added to the compost bin. 

              2. Compost becoming too much watery:

                When you add too many greens or bio-waste that is rich in nitrogen and water content, it leads to the development of watery/ soggy compost. That may develop a bad smell/ foul smell. During that case, you have to add more browns to the compost pile in order to reduce the water content in the compost pile. Browns here refer to the dried leaves, branches, twigs, cardboard boxes, tissue paper, etc. These materials will absorb the moisture content and undergo breakdown into the composting. 

                3. Compost too dry:

                  When your compost pile feels too much dry, It might be due to more amount of browns compare to greens. i.e. dried leaves, cardboard, twigs, and branches. They require more amount of water for the decomposition process. So try to add more proportion of greens than browns or externally put some water. 

                  4. Development of maggots

                    maggots in compost
                    image source

                    The development of maggots in a compost pile is the major problem that can be noticed in most of the compost bins. The reasons might vary from the type of bio-wastes you add and the process of composting. Maggots are no bad for your compost. But if you hesitate to see them in your compost piles remove them and add some more browns to balance the moisture content or you can go for starting it from the first.

                    5. Foul smell

                    In general, the decomposing waste posses sweet to sour pickle smell, If you notice any foul smell, it means you added something that should not go into the compost pile. So make sure which materials should be added and should not be added into the compost bin. avoid materials like meat, fish, whole eggs to avoid bad smells from the compost bins/piles.

                    6. No liquid fertilizer

                      if you are composting in any container or in soil pits, liquid fertilizer either gets drained out or into the soil. Maintain the composting bin at certain height and place a container to collect the liquid fertilizer that drains out through drainage holes of the bin. This liquid needs to be diluted with water before using it to plants.

                       

                      Most frequently asked questions on composting: 

                      1. What foods cannot be composted?
                        For a faster composting process, avoid these materials to add to the compost bin. 
                        • Dairy products 
                        • Fish, & meat
                        • Disease infected plant parts
                        • Insect ridden plant parts
                        • Plastic, glass, charcoal & coal ash. 

                        2. Can I put bread pieces into the compost bin?
                          Yes, we can add fresh bread pieces. Do not use fungus-developed or spoiled bread in your compost bin. Because those unhealthy microbes will compete with the healthy microbes and slow down the process of composting.
                           

                          3. Can cooked rice go in compost?
                             Adding cooked food into the composting depends on the type of composting. In the aerobic method, we cannot use cooked food for composting due to odour problems, and it may attract some rodents, may lead to the development of bad bacteria. 


                            4. Are eggshells good for composting? 
                              Eggshells are a rich source of calcium, that can be complemented with the composting process. Before adding eggshells wash them with water and let them dry under sunlight. Drying eggshells help them to break down easily in the compost bin/ composting process. 


                              5. Does hair decompose in soil?
                                Hair and animal fur can be added to the soil & compost bin. Naturally, these two elements break down very slowly and release nutrients slowly into your soil. Before applying them to the soil cut them into small pieces and mix them with soil, so they can slowly release the nutrients to your plants.
                                 

                                6. What will make compost decompose faster?

                                  In the aerobic type of composting, aerating compost pile should be turned once in three days to accelerate the process of composting or break down of biowaste. When you aerate the compost, ( aerating here refers to the mixing of composting pile) it provides oxygen for microbes and accelerates the process of composting or breakdown of biowastes. 


                                  7. Can I put moldy food in the compost bin? 

                                    The answer is yes. Mold is one of the microorganisms that take part in composting. It is ok to add moldy fruits and vegetables to your compost pile. 


                                    8. Does a compost bin need a lid?

                                      The requirement of a lid for the compost bin depends on the type of composting process you are going to do. For the anaerobic type of composting like the bokashi method, it should have a lid to cover the bin airtightly and for creating anaerobic condition, For aerobic condition compost bin needs no lid to cover it airtightly. You can cover the bin with cardboard to allow the entry of air into the bin. 


                                      9. What materials are needed to start the composting process? 

                                        All you need is fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea bags, tissue papers, dried leaves, parts of plants, eggshells. If you collect all these materials you can start the process of composting. 


                                        10. Are bananas good for garden compost?

                                          Bananas are a rich source of K & P. Banana peels serve as a great source of nutrients for flowering plants like rose, hibiscus, and jasmine. Cut the banana peels and add them into your compost bin or simply dig the soil in your pot and bury the banana peels and cover them with a fine amount of soil. 


                                          11. How do you know when compost is ready? 

                                            You can check that by looking into the color, texture, and odor of the product. If the process has been completed it should smell earthy, the texture should be crumbly and the color should be dark brown or black. It should not smell like rotten fruits and vegetables. 


                                            12. Can we use garlic and onions in the compost bin? 

                                              All the vegetables are the very basic ingredient of composting except a few like garlic, and onion. As garlic and onions will have antibacterial properties they will stop the development of bacteria and slows down the composting process. 


                                              13. How do you kill maggots in compost?

                                                Maggots actually break down the biowaste and help in the composting. If you are not feeling good by seeing the development of maggots, you can increase adding browns into the compost to reduce moisture content. A low amount of moisture in compost suppresses the growth of maggots. 


                                                14. Do we need to add water in the compost bin?

                                                  Composting needs optimum moisture content. Too little moisture content slows down the composting. Too much water spoils the composting. After few days of composting if it didn't reduce in its size or not created enough heat, moisten the waste to accelerate the process. 


                                                  15. Are orange peels bad for composting?

                                                    No, citrus peels are rich in three major nutrients like NPK (i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Break down of these peels releases the nutrients to compost and enrich the final product of compost. 

                                                     

                                                     References:

                                                    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/348098151_Composting_Phases_and_Factors_Responsible_for_Efficient_and_Improved_Composting 

                                                     

                                                     

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