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Better Composting Through Science

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Have you ever been told "Just compost, it's so easy!" but then have been unsure about aspects such as carbon to nitrogen ratio, or frustrated by a slow, sloppy or stinky pile? It's true that the simplified rules of composting are easy, and should be accessible to anyone but to really master compost making and organics recycling it helps to think about the underlying scientific processes.

A compost heap is not a natural thing but is actually a bioreactor, an engineered situation that we manage by enclosing, mixing and feeding and then harvesting from after we have nurtured it to produce the desired outcome (black gold!).

Brook Clinton, who runs Capital Scraps Composting in Canberra has extensive experience in running various bioreactors, carrying out all sorts of biotransformations. But she prefers the humble compost heap.  It may be deemed by some as humble and 'non-technological' but it is in fact an incredibly complex situation with multitudes of biological actors (micro-organisms) carrying out impressive chemical and biochemical transformations. A basic understanding of the underlying biology, chemistry and physics combined with some engineering know-how allows industrial composters to compost with a high level of efficiency and minimal problems.

But we can also bring this understanding of the science behind composting to our smaller backyard compost heaps. Whether you want to make compost faster, or recycle more food scraps, or you just want to be impressed at how pleasant and efficient a well-managed compost heap can be, this session is for you.

Going beyond basic composting advice (like maintaining the correct carbon to nitrogen ratio), we’ll cover aspects of moisture management, bacterial metabolism, selection pressures on your microbial community, enzymatic degradation and more. But these will all be discussed in the context of a real, living compost heap. This really is science in action.