Among the attributes of compost are –
- Immobilizes nutrients in the bodies of microorganisms. This keeps nutrients, especially nitrogen, from leaching out of the pile. When the finished compost is applied to the soil, nutrients are released slowly and in forms available to plants.
- Increases soil organic matter and cation exchange capacity.
- Provides a feedstock of nutrients as well as the “habitat” for beneficial soil microbes.
- Kills (some, not all) plant pathogens and weed seeds during the composting process.
- Inoculates the soil with beneficial microbes (bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, etc.).
- Improves soil structure by promoting soil aggregation (binding soil particles together), which in turn promotes aeration, moisture retention, permeability, and consistency, thus improving the “workability” of a soil.
- Usually panacea-like in solving whatever problem your soil has.
Process and Participants
In constructing a compost pile you are setting the stage for the biological, chemical, and physical decomposition of bulky organic wastes and recycling of nutrients, taking the large, the rigid, the dry (think corn stalks), as well as the particulate, the wet and the slimy (think matted grass clippings or soggy kitchen scraps) and then transforming them.
This is a highly aerobic process, as oxygen fuels the metabolism of the microbes principal in the decomposition process. In fact, you could refer to a compost pile as a “microbial layer cake.” The decomposition is carried out by succeeding waves (populations) of micro-and macro-organisms. You play the role of facilitating this process.
In a sense, composting is a form of animal husbandry or “microbe farming.” As with any successful husbandry effort, habitat, diet, and water are the key building blocks of a successful compost pile.
A compost pile is simply “pasture” for microbes. Via its ingredients, the pile provides a feedstock for the initial microbial populations and eventually the “finishers” or “shredders and chewers,” macro-organisms such as earthworms, mites, sowbugs, centipedes, millipedes, etc. Microbial populations tend to be ubiquitous, thus there is no need for inoculants, as small populations exist on much of the substrate used in composting