Composting On The Farm

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Composting provides a means to convert plant matter, animal feces, and a variety of other organic materials into a biologically, chemically, and physically beneficial soil amendment. Composting can be a very simple or extremely complicated practice depending on the type of material to be composted, the amount of space available, the amount of time given to generate finished compost, and how the compost is to be used. This handout seeks to provide the basic information needed to develop composting on the farm.

In terms of managing a compost pile, it helps to start with the understanding that composting is nothing more than managing the naturally occurring process of decay. The real workers in composting are microbes. There are several factors that influence how well microbes do their job during composting. Rynk (1992) identified the most critical factors in composting as:

  • Organic materials mixed to provide a balanced supply of carbon and nitrogen (C:N ratio) needed for microbial activity and growth (optimal: 25:1 to 30:1)
  • Oxygen to support aerobic organisms (minimum of 5% by volume)
  • Moisture to support biological activity without hindering aeration (optimal: 40-65% by weight, other literature recommend up to 75%)
  • Temperatures conducive to high rates of decomposition from thermophilic microorganisms (optimal - 110-150 °F)
Andrew C. Fogiel
Michigan State University