The Food Decomposition Process

Even if you don’t put your food waste into a compost pile, food will decompose over time. Decomposition is a natural process. But what is really going on during decomposition? Here is a short overview of the food decomposition process.

A compost pile is full of life, even if much of it can only be seen in a microscope. The organisms in your compost pile break down the stuff in your compost by physical and chemical decomposition. Physical decomposition means that species eat the stuff in the compost pile. This happens in early stages of the compost pile. The physical decomposition helps bacteria and fungus with their chemical decomposition.

The chemical decomposition is done by microbes which release enzymes that break down organic structures. The chemical decomposition will increase the temperature in the compost pile. Once the chemical decomposition is finished, the temperature will drop. This encourages physical decomposers to came back and finish their job.

Many of the physical decomposers can be seen with the naked eye. Beetles and earthworms are easy to detect, mites and springtails are smaller but still visible. But most of physical decomposers are microscopic. A huge amount of nematodes are at work in your compost pile. They eat both decaying organic matter and other decomposers.

Like nematodes, the term mite is used for a huge number of species. These small animals have four pair of legs and do a lot of productive work in a compost pile. Centipedes use compost pile as hunting ground, they don’t do anything good for your compost. But it is still best to leave them alone. You can remove them but be careful, centipede bites can be painful.

If you find ants in your compost pile, it is too dry. Just water it and the ants will move. But ants are useful in a compost pile so you don’t need to panic. But a compost pile that is dry will need longer time to decompose matter. Flies are not bad for your compost but in larger amounts they can be a nuisance. By increasing the temperature, you can generally get rid of most of the flies. By adding grass clippings, you increase the temperature.

For fast decomposition you need a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 30:1. If you have much more carbon, the decomposition will be slower. Too much nitrogen on the other hand, and the compost will generate ammonia and start to smell. So try to keep the carbon/nitrogen ratio at about 30:1. As mentioned previously, you also need to make sure that your compost pile does not get too cold or hot. A cold pile will decompose slower. If it gets too hot, microbial activity will cease and the decomposition will stop.

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