Decomposition occurs naturally anywhere plants grow. When a plant dies, its remains are attacked by microorganisms and invertebrates in the soil, and it is decomposed to humus. This is how nutrients are recycled in an ecosystem. This natural decomposition can be encouraged by creating ideal conditions. The microorganisms and invertebrates fundamental to the composting process require oxygen and water to successfully decompose the material. The end products of the process are soil-enriching compost, carbon dioxide, water, and heat.
Composting is a dynamic process that will occur quickly or slowly, depending on the process used and the skill with which it is executed. A neglected pile of organic waste will inevitably decompose, but slowly. This has been referred to as “passive composting,” because little maintenance is performed. Fast or “active” composting can be completed in two to six weeks. This method requires three key activities; 1) “aeration,” by turning the compost pile, 2) moisture and 3) the proper carbon to nitrogen (C:N) ratio. Attention to these elements will raise the temperature to around 130=-140=, and ensure rapid decomposition.
The success with which the organic substances are composted depends on the organic material and the decomposer organisms involved. Some organic materials are broken down more easily than others. Different decomposers thrive on different materials as well as at different temperature ranges. Some microbes require oxygen, and others do not; those that require oxygen are preferable for composting.
A more diverse microbial community makes for a more efficient composting process. If the environment in the compost pile becomes inhospitable to a particular type of decomposer, it will die, become dormant, or move to a different part of the compost pile. The transforming conditions of the compost pile create a continually evolving ecosystem inside the pile.