So, you've recently bought your first compost bin or tumbler, and are on your way to a compost type known as aerobic composting. But the trouble is, you're not sure exactly what it is. Just what is aerobic composting, how does it compare to the anaerobic variety, and what can you do to make sure it happens. Here's what you need to know about the different types of composting and their characteristics.
Composting can be either aerobic or anaerobic, depending on the process. Anaerobic composting is what happens on the forest floor in most wooded areas. You pile up a lot of organic materials, or let them pile up, and allow them to decompose. This environment does not have much oxygen, and the bacteria that thrive in it are slow working. This type of compost can be smelly, since anaerobic bacteria produce sulfate gases and methane as by products. It can also take up to a year to compost all of even a small compost pile. Most of us do not want to wait that long, so we work to make the process aerobic instead.
Aerobic composting is a much different process. It creates an oxygenated environment that supports aerobic bacteria. These are much more efficient, fast working bacteria. In some cases, they can get composting done in fewer than six weeks, and they also emit next to no odor. However, it does not happen automatically – unless you aerate your compost pile, the aerobic bacteria will die from lack of oxygen. That's why traditional compost piles often need to be turned, and why compost tumblers are so popular – they let you do away with the need to pitchfork.
It's also important to pay close attention to what you put into an aerobic compost pile. Animal products, like meat, dairy products, and eggs (egg shells are fine) should not go into your compost pile. They'll tend to attract pests and will smell as they decompose. However, just about anything vegetable based, as well as yard waste, natural fiber dryer lint, small animal bedding, sawdust, and other natural fibrous or vegetable materials are just fine. Try to get a good balance of moist and fibrous materials to encourage efficient composting. A little finished compost added at the beginning can help, too.
It does not take long to produce great organic compost that's ready for your garden. Just fork over the pile or turn the tumbler from time to time and let the bacteria do their work. Aerobic composting is fast, sterile (it heats up as it decays) and produces free soil additives, too. Start your first compost pile today! Your lawn and garden will thank you.