Tarrant County Master Gardener Association
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In nature there is a cycle of life, growth, death and decay.  Plants draw their needed nutrients from the soil and the air around them.  As a plant dies, it falls to the ground where microorganisms decompose it (compost) and release the nutrients back into the soil where they wil be available for other plants to use.  Compost is the finest of all soil amendments.
The modern practice of composting is little more than speeding up and intensifying natural processes - and that's all it is.  Finished compost is no more than predigested organic material which has undergone a natural rotting process and which is very valuble "stuff" to incorporate into your garden's soil.  Successful home composting is more art than science - it is not rocket surgery!
Back yard composting is a way of using up what we have in abundance - humble things like weeds, grass clippings, dead plants, and kitchen scraps.  A large portion of household waste is composed of organic material and is compostable.
Soil microorganisms are what starts the decomposition process and they are everywhere!  There can be as many as 900 billion microorganisms in just one pound of soil.  In most instances we are looking for speedy results from out backyard composting efforts; therefore, it is to our benefit to encourage these existing microorganisms to grow and multiply as much as possible.
To provide these microbes with an optimum environment they will need the following:
Scientists have determined that the ideal compost pile mixture of carbon materials to nitrogen materials is 30 parts of carbon to 1 part of nitrogen.  All organic matter contains carbon and nitrogen in some ratio so don't be concerned about whether you have obtained this ideal ratio because you will never know exactly what you have in your compost pile.
Water - from start to finish your compost pile should have the consistency of a wrung out sponge.  Not enough water is the biggest problem in north central Texas.
Air - you cannot have too much air.  One of the advantages of turning or stirring your pile is that you are reintroducing more air into it.  Turning your pile more often than every third day will slow down the decomposition process!
When microbes start digesting carbon compounds, the carbon is literally burned or oxidized.  Part of this oxidative energy is given off in the form of heat.  That's how you know that decomposition is occuring.  Temperatures of 165 degrees may be achieved; however, lower temperatures are more common and will produce finished compost, only slower.  When you can no longer get the pil to heat up, the compost is essentially done and can be used.
Anything organic (once living) is fair game for composting; however, there are several things that you should not put in your backyard pile:
Compost containers for your backyard pile are for your convenience only (the microbes couldn't care less).  Factors that could influence your choice are convenience, cost, appearance, and durability, but be careful - many nice looking containers are sadly lacking in the other factors.
Remember, "compost happens"
Serious about Soil
By Charlie Shiner, Master Gardener - Compost Specialist

BACKYARD COMPOSTING OR LET IT ROT (Third in a Three-Part Series)