Contains Multitudes–Your Compost Bin’s Ecosystem

There’s still time to order a new compost bin and pick it up this Saturday, April 23 from 9am-noon, or May 14 from noon-3pm. We’ll be hosting short info sessions every hour to help get you started on this satisfying hobby that will significantly reduce your weekly trash amounts. 

A compost bin is a convenient way to process organic trash (fruit/vegetable peelings, grass clippings, dead leaves) in your backyard, which results in a rich mix you can add to your garden. The bin contains your waste material pile to create some pressure and keeps it moist and warm, so your scraps are converted into compost in a couple of months.

But have you wondered about how this process actually happens? The bin helps speed it along, but you have a lot of (teeny, tiny) help breaking down all of this organic waste.

Left: Images of your tiny compost community. For more on compost bin ecology, check out Composting to Reduce the Waste Stream.  Right: at our pick-up events we will demonstrate different ways to maintain your bin.

Your tiny compost army will help you reduce your waste stream…

The first level of composting activity happens with the microscopic organisms that are already present on the organic waste, or in the soil that your bin sits on. These are the organisms that are served by your careful blend of green material (provides nitrogen that they synthesize proteins from) and brown (provides carbon that microorganisms use as an energy source). The end product of the microscopic activity is both decomposed material and small amounts of carbon dioxide (compared to the large amounts of methane that is released when organic material breaks down without oxygen in a landfill).

…feed your flowers, and process your peelings.

After this front line of decomposers, macroinvertebrates (larvae, mites) appear to eat the bacteria, fungi, and yeast. The second level, in turn, is consumed by small insects (millipedes, sow bugs) and then larger ones (earthworms, beetles). The larger consumers also eat the broken down plant material, further processing the waste.  

As you develop the ecosystem of your bin, you will learn what it needs to thrive. A cooler, shadier spot needs less water and less stirring, so the heat of the decomposition is maintained. A warmer, sunnier spot might need occasional watering and more stirring to keep things moist. Some bins want more green, if the process is slow; some might need some brown if it gets a bit smelly. Over time you will learn what suits your compost helpers; your tiny army will help you reduce your waste stream, feed your flowers, and process your peelings.

Want to learn more? Feel free to stop by either pick-up date above, and learn more about composting, even if you haven’t bought a bin. We will also have informational flyers you can take with you, printed courtesy of the Rotary Club of Beloit.

Brenda Plakans
Executive Director, WEC