Composting Basics: How Does Composting Work?

The following are some of the most common questions asked by newbies when it comes to composting. They might not all be answered here, but hopefully they will at least give you an idea of how things work. If there is something else that needs to be added or clarified, please feel free to comment with your thoughts!

Q: What kind of materials do I need for my first batch?

A: You don’t need much material to start composting. A small amount of wood chips (or other organic matter) will suffice. Smaller amounts of peat moss, sawdust, leaves and grass clippings can also be used. Wood chips are best because they break down quickly and are easy to handle. However, if you have no access to these materials then any organic matter that you can get hold of will do just fine.

Q: Is composting safe?

A: Yes, composting is very safe. There are many different kinds of bacteria that live in soil and decompose organic matter into nutrients for plants. These bacteria are beneficial to humans and animals alike. Many people believe that composting is dangerous since there is no oxygen present during the process which could cause illness in those who breathe it in. This is not true. There is still oxygen in the soil and plenty of it. The same amount that is in the top layer of soil that we walk on every day.

Q: Is there a difference between hot composting and cold composting?

A: Yes, there is. Hot composting involves putting a large amount of materials into a pile, and keeping them tightly packed so that air cannot get in. As the pile heats up, the bacteria break down the materials quickly. This type of composting is best done in the spring and fall. Cold composting on the other hand involves turning or mixing the materials in your bin so that oxygen can be added. This allows for slower decomposition, but it is easier to handle when it is ready to use. Cold composting can be done at any time of year.

Q: What kind of bin should I use?

A: This is entirely up to you. If you have a small space, a small bin will do just fine. There are some ready-made ones at your local gardening store. Many people have old drums or garbage cans that they keep for this purpose as well. If you have more room, a larger bin may be in order. In that case, a wooden pallet on its side makes an excellent large composting bin.

Sources & references used in this article:

Composting control: principles and practice by EI Stentiford – The science of composting, 1996 – Springer

The practical handbook of compost engineering by RT Haug – 2018 –

Composting for Dummies by C Cromell, National Gardening Association – 2010 –

The Rodale book of composting: easy methods for every gardener by DL Martin, G Gershuny – 1992 –

Effect of C/N ratio and salinity on power generation in compost microbial fuel cells by JM Khudzari, B Tartakovsky, GSV Raghavan – Waste management, 2016 – Elsevier

Industrial composting: environmental engineering and facilities management by E Epstein – 2011 –



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