What are the Different Composting Methods

Different Composting Methods
Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay

Creating your own compost is a sustainable and efficient way to manage organic waste, enrich your soil, and reduce your carbon footprint. There are many different composting methods to choose from, and there are composting techniques suitable for all kinds of gardeners.

This article focuses on urban and non-commercial composting techniques. We provide an overview of the different methods to help you choose the best solution for your garden. We also look into the issues caused by peat-based composts and how to utilize compost in your garden.

The Problem with Peat-Based Composts

Many commercially available composts are peat-based. Peat is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter that forms in waterlogged environments. These environments are vital ecosystems for our planet.  

The extraction of peat from peat bogs contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), peatlands store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined. And when peat is harvested, this carbon is released into the atmosphere.

In the UK alone, the extraction of peat releases approximately 630,000 tons of CO2 annually, as reported by the UK Committee on Climate Change. By choosing alternative composting methods, we can reduce our reliance on peat and help reduce these environmental impacts.

Benefits of Using Compost in the Garden

The main benefits of using compost in the garden is that it enriches the soil, provide essential nutrients that enhance plant growth and improves soil structure. Adding compost will increase the soil’s ability to retain moisture, reduces erosion, and promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms.

The primary nutrients plants need include nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), along with micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. Home compost typically includes a balance of these nutrients, depending on the materials used to create the compost.

Kitchen scraps, yard waste, and other organic materials break down to create a nutrient-rich substance that supports healthier, more productive plants. When you have good quality compost you can also create your own compost tea to use in your garden.

Compost helps produce stronger plants with higher yields by improving soil fertility. This makes it an invaluable resource for any gardener.

The Different Composting Methods

When you are looking into starting to compost yourself, you find there are many methods to choose from. Here is an overview of the most common once.

Hot Composting

Hot composting is a method that accelerates the decomposition process by maintaining high temperatures, typically between 130–160°F (54–71°C). There are two main methods of warm composting: traditional hot composting and the Berkley method. Both methods require a balance of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials, adequate moisture, and regular turning of the pile.

Traditional Hot Composting

This method involves creating a compost pile with alternating layers of green and brown materials. The pile should be at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall to ensure it retains heat effectively. It is crucial to get the right level of moisture in the pile. It should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge! Regular turning, about once a week, will supports the microbes responsible for the decomposing.

This method produces finished compost in a few months, depending on the conditions and materials used. To successfully hot compost, you’ll need a dedicated space in your garden, a pitchfork to turn the pile, and a balance of green and brown materials to build the pile.

The Berkley Method

This method is also known as the 18-day compost. It is a faster version of hot composting and follows a specific regimen: create a pile with the same size requirements as traditional hot composting but turn it more frequently – every other day. This frequent turning accelerates the composting process, so you can produce finished compost in as little as 18 days.

The key to the Berkley method is maintaining high temperatures and consistent moisture levels throughout the process. While it requires more effort, the rapid results make it an attractive method if you need the compost quickly.

Cold Composting

Cold composting is a slower, more passive method that. To cold compost you pile up organic materials and letting them decompose naturally over time. Unlike hot composting, cold composting does not require regular turning or careful monitoring of temperature and moisture levels. Simply add organic waste to a pile and let nature do its thing.

The process can take a year or more, because it relies on ambient temperatures and microbial activity. This method is low-maintenance and suitable for gardeners who prefer a simple approach to composting. All you need is a compost bin or a designated area for your compost pile, and organic material to add to the pile.

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting uses worms to break down organic waste into nutrient-rich compost called vermicast. You have to use a special type of worms called red worms (Eisenia fetida) for this, just digging up some worms from the garden won’t do! This method is particularly effective for composting kitchen scraps, and it is ideal for urban settings as it can be done indoors or in small spaces.

To start vermicomposting, you set up a worm bin with bedding material, add the worms, and feed them kitchen scraps regularly. The worms digest the organic material, producing castings that are excellent for soil enrichment as well. Vermicomposting is a clean and efficient method that produces high-quality compost with minimal effort.

Bokashi Composting

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic fermentation process that uses a bran inoculated with specific microbes to break down organic matter. Organic waste is added to a Bokashi bucket, layered with Bokashi bran, and sealed to ferment. After a few weeks, the material can be buried in the garden to complete decomposition.

This method is also called Japanese composting. It is efficient and can handle a wide range of materials, including meat and dairy, which are typically difficult to compost with other methods.

To start Bokashi composting, you’ll need a Bokashi bucket, Bokashi bran, and organic waste. Bokashi composting is also well suited for urban environments since it is a compact system that does not require a lot of space. And it can manage a variety of kitchen wastes.

Sheet Composting

Sheet composting involves spreading organic materials directly onto the soil surface and allowing them to decompose in place. This method is simple and integrates composting directly into your gardening routine. The technique is also called lasagna composting.

Spread a layer of cardboards or newspaper on the designated area, then add a layer of nitrogen-rich material, like manure, kitchen scraps, grass clippings or similar, then cover with a layer of carbon-rich material, straw, leaves, shredded paper etc. You can keep adding more and more layers alternating carbon material and nitrogen material. Over time, the materials break down, and enriches the surrounding soil with nutrients.

Sheet composting is a straightforward way to improve soil fertility and structure without the need for a dedicated compost bin.

Trench Composting

Trench composting is a simple form of composting where you dig a trench or hole in your garden and burying organic waste directly in the soil. This method is discreet and can be easily introduced into your kitchen garden.

The buried waste decomposes over time, enriching the soil with nutrients. This method is particularly useful for gardeners who want to compost kitchen scraps and garden waste without a visible compost pile.

You need a shovel, organic waste, and a designated area in your garden for the trenches. Trench composting is an effective way to recycle organic matter and improve soil health directly where you grow your plants.

Compost Tumblers

Compost tumblers are enclosed containers that can be rotated to mix and aerate the composting materials. This method is convenient for urban and small-space composting.

To use a compost tumbler, add organic waste to the container, close the lid, and rotate the container regularly to mix the materials and speed up decomposition. Compost tumblers are easy to use and reduce the effort required to turn a compost pile manually.

All you need is a compost tumbler and organic waste. This method is ideal for gardeners looking for a clean, efficient, and space-saving way to compost.

Different Composting Methods
Image by Daina Krumins from Pixabay

The Commercial Composting Processes

Industrial composting involves large-scale processes to handle large amounts of organic waste. They typically use advanced composting techniques such as:

  • Windrow Composting: Organic waste is piled in long rows and turned regularly to aerate the material and speed up decomposition.
  • Aerated Static Pile Composting: Organic waste is piled and aerated through a system of blowers or pipes. This technique requires no turning.
  • In-Vessel Composting: Organic waste is composted in enclosed containers or vessels. This will allow a precise control over the environmental conditions.

These methods are used in large agricultural settings, municipalities, and commercial operations to manage organic waste efficiently and produce high-quality compost. If you do not have the possibility to produce your own compost, you can buy compost from your municipal or another agent.

Composting for the earth and your garden

By understanding these different composting methods, you can choose the technique that best suits your needs, whether you are a homeowner, balcony gardener, or urban farmer. Composting not only reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills but also promotes healthier plant growth.

By turning organic waste into valuable compost, you contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy. In addition, you will be reducing the need for chemical fertilizers in your garden.

Every small compost pile helps combat climate change and fosters a greener, more resilient environment. Embracing composting practices is a practical and impactful step toward sustainability, benefiting both your garden and the planet.

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