In nature, leaves and branches that fall to the ground form a rich, moist layer of mulch that protects the roots of plants and provides a home for nature's most fundamental recyclers: worms, insects and a host of microorganisms too small to see with the naked eye. The natural decomposition of organic matter in soils may take one or more years to generate stable soil organic matter, humus.
In contrast, composting is a controlled process that uses microorganisms found in nature to transform large quantities of organic materials into a humuslike substance called compost. Quality compost may be produced in only a few months and provides numerous environmentally beneficial applications.
The composting process provides aerobic bacteria, actinobacteria (actinomycetes) and fungi with required aeration, moisture and nutrition to break down and restructure the organic matter into more complex and less easily degraded substances. The result is often heat generated from microbiological activity and high loss of mass and volume from the original organic matter. As microorganisms consume organic matter and respire, large amounts of carbon dioxide and moisture are subsequently lost to the atmosphere.
Composting is most efficient when the major parameters that affect the composting process -- oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, moisture and temperature -- are managed properly.
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The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture