Composting 101

So you’ve been hearing about all the damage to the environment we’ve been causing and about climate change and about the depleting levels of clean water everywhere and air pollution and loss of forest lands and biodiversity and are now ready to do your bit to save our planet? That is an excellent decision. Our planet needs all the help she can get to be able to sustain life into the future and eco-warriors like you can make the difference. And if you are wondering how to start and what giant steps you need to take, we are here to tell you that you can start with baby steps. Because that is how change begins. And the very first step you can take is to start making compost at home yourself.

Compost? What is compost?
Technically speaking, compost is a mixture consisting largely of decayed organic matter that is used for soil conditioning and also as a fertilizer for gardening and agriculture. From an environmental perspective though, compost is also the valuable result of waste management that allows for sustainable environmental practises at individual and civic levels.

That sounds great. But why should I compost?
First, because of history, culture, tradition and respect for ancient norms. Historically, composting (the process of making compost) has been in practise in India since time immemorial. As glorious and rich as India’s farming/agriculture tradition is, a large part of it is because we’ve always practised composting that allowed for nutrient-rich soil where plants could thrive and low waste environments that ensured minimal land and water pollution. In olden days, when space wasn’t a constraint, all household waste was collected and dumped into a pit for composting. The resulting compost was then used in agriculture and gardening. It is only with the advent of civilisation and industrialisation and metropolises and urban living that healthy commonplace practises like composting faded into the background, resulting in the piles of untreated garbage we see around us everyday.

And if history and tradition are not good enough reasons for you to compost, consider the many environmental benefits of composting. Composting requires you to segregate wet and dry waste and then treating organic waste at source. This ensures treatable waste won’t clog our landfills, getting burnt eventually and then polluting our air. Treating organic waste also ensures none of that will leach into our groundwater, polluting our water supplies. And using compost for gardening and agriculture will reduce the need for chemical fertilisers that harm the land and also us when we consume foods treated with those chemicals. And when you separate wet waste from dry waste, you also create opportunities to recycle/upcycle the dry waste which not only helps the planet but also becomes a revenue source for individuals and civic bodies.

That sounds great. But I am no expert, can I compost?
Anybody can (and everybody should) compost. You don’t need to be an expert of any kind. All you need is to be someone who generates organic waste. Whether you are a homemaker or a student or a member of a housing society or an environment enthusiast, you can compost. All you need to be is a responsible and conscientious person who cares about Mother Earth.

What is the science behind composting?
Scientifically speaking, composting is a complex process involving degradation of organic waste into simpler elements that can be easily assimilated by plants for growth and nourishment. This process is majorly dependent on temperature and moisture content of the composting mixture during the course of degradation.

OK. What else do I need to know about composting?
It will be helpful to know the names of the various terms you are likely to encounter. Who knows, maybe you will become an “expert” some day and people will ask you what these mean.

Yes. Which are the common terms associated with composting?
Compost/manure: This is the soil-like finished product you get after composting. It is the result of breakdown of organic waste into simpler compounds.
Leachate: During composting, a liquid extract is also produced. This extract is called leachate.
Moisture content: Your composting mixture needs to have some amount of water present in it. This is known as moisture content.
Aeration: One of the most important ingredients in a healthy composting environment is air, specifically oxygen. The availability of air for the composting mixture is called aeration.

Is there only one way to compost?
No. Broadly, there are two main composting techniques which depend on the ingredient used to enable composting. Biocomposting uses microorganisms in the composting process and Vermicomposting uses earthworms.

Earthworms? How does Vermicomposting work exactly?
In Vermicomposting, earthworms are added to the compost mixture and they eat up all the organic matter, creating vermicompost which is simply earthworm poop. Vermicomposting is a fairly old technique for making compost but comes with several drawbacks. The organic matter fed to the worms and the species of worms themselves determine the nature of the compost. And if you are the kind of person who has vermiphobia, then the sight of worms will likely put you off composting forever.

Oh. OK. What is Biocomposting then?
Biocomposting is a much easier and friendlier technique to make compost. It uses naturally occurring microorganisms that feed on organic waste and break it down into simpler elements that can be easily used by plants for nutrition.

There are two different methods of biocomposting too. One is auto composting which uses machines to aid the composting process. These machines also speed up the composting process. The other method is manual composing where we provide the environment for the bacterial consortium and the tiny bacteria do their job by creating conditions that suits them.

Great. I think I am ready to start biocomposting. Where do I begin?
Ready, steady, get set, SEGREGATE!
The first and most important step in composting is to segregate your waste because you can and should only compost your wet, organic waste. Use the handy guide below to identify what waste can be composted and what you need to keep away for recycling. As a basic rule of thumb, anything that is organic and plant- or animal-generated can be composted. And anything that is manmade cannot.

 

WET WASTE (Compostable)
Fruit and vegetable peels
Stale flowers
Egg shells
Leftover food
Teabags
Meat without bones
Dairy products

DRY WASTE (Non-compostable)
Paper
Packaging
Plastic bags
Anything made of plastic
Twigs of plants
Electronic waste

Just make sure that the leftover food and dairy products are not added to your compost mixture at the beginning. They need to be added after you already have a compost mixture going. And when you add tea bags, make doubly certain that you’ve removed all the stapler pins and plastic from them before chucking into your compost mix. You can also add stuff like leaves to your compost mix.

OK. My segregation set-up is ready. Now what do I need?
Organic waste. You have plenty of it!
A location for composting. The area you compost in needs to be well-ventilated, free from water drenching and not directly affected by sunlight.
A pit or perforated bin. If you have space enough, then pit composting is best and nature will help you. If space is a constraint, get yourself a perforated bin to compost in. And if don’t have a perforated bin, you can make one yourself. Just select a bin of and punch several small holes to let air enter your compost mix. Make slightly larger holes at the bottom of the bin for leachate collection.
Microbial consortium. These microbes are the real here of composting.
A spatula and a pair of gloves. For when you need to mix the compost without making too much of a mess.
The last and most important thing: Patience.

Great. I got all of that. I got a pack of Bioclean Compost too. And patience I’ve always had. So, what are the steps I need to follow for bin composting?
• First, shred your waste into smaller pieces.
• Place plenty of dried leaves at the bottom of the bin to form a 1-inch deep pile.
• Make one layer of wet waste
• Sprinkle 1-3 gm Bioclean Compost for 1 kg of waste
• Make another layer of wet waste
• Make sure you turn the waste around at least once a day
• Once the bin is full, keep it aside for at least a month
• Voila, your compost is ready to nourish your plants
• Last step: Make sure you have some plants you can nourish.

All that sounds easy. Is there anything I need to watch out for?
Yes. There are a few important parameters you need to keep an eye on during the composting process.

Temperature.
The temperature of the composting mixture ranges from 45°C to 70°C. Temperature is the determining factor for moisture content too. If the temperature of your mixture is too high, add water and allow ample aeration. If the temperature is not reaching the desired levels, transfer the bin to a closed place until the temperature rises to where it should be.

Aeration.
Bin composting is an aerobic process and requires availability of ample air supply to your composting mixture. Check the holes in your bin to ensure they don’t get clogged, blocking air supply to the compost bin.

Moisture content.
For ideal composting, the moisture content should be in the 50-60% range. Getting the exact value of moisture content rests on you though. Roughly speaking, your compost pile should have as much water as we have in cooked noodles. If you feel it is lacking moisture, sprinkle or spray some water on top. If the moisture content seems high, add dried leaves or cocopeat or sawdust to dry it out a bit.

OK. I’ve got all that. What about the microbes or microorganisms? Is there a science to that?
Having read so far, you may think composting is easy. And it is. But for better and safer composting, it is very important to have the correct mix of bacteria. The bacteria should contain a variety of enzymes to be able to break down the organic matter. Along with doing its major job of degradation, bacteria must also be able to tackle all the issues pertaining to odour, pathogen reduction and flies that might arise during the course of degradation.

Effects of composting with the proper mix of bacteria
Minimal odour
Worms and flies are controlled
Reduction in pathogen population
Quicker compost formation

Effects of composting without the proper mix of bacteria
Foul odour
Higher incidences of worms and flies
Increase in number of pathogens leading to gastrointestinal diseases
Delayed or no compost formation
Incidences of aspergillosis, a respiratory disorder caused by inhalation of fungal spores, in people handling compost

OK. I have understood that. In any case, with Bioclean Compost, I don’t need to worry about the proper bacterial mix. Are there any other issues I need to know?
You’re right. Bioclean Compost consists of soil derived saprophytic microbes, molds and yeast that use only non living matter as food source and ensures that you can make high quality compost. Use of Bioclean Compost brings about an accelerated and odourless process of organic waste degradation. For other issues, please refer to this handy troubleshooting guide we’ve put together for you.

Troubleshooting guide for composting

Excellent. Thank you. Am I ready to start composting now?
Yes. That is everything you need to know about composting. Apart from helping your plants grow, you are also saving our future and our environment while drastically reducing the waste you generate. You are now an eco-warrior. Don’t forget to order some Bioclean Compost to kickstart your composting journey.

Post by Khushboo Shroff