Composting is the process of allowing organic materials of various kinds to biodegrade to the point in which they are turned into workable soil or nutrients for soil. It is something that has been happening in nature for millions of years, without the aid or control of humans, and is a highly important part of what it commonly referred to as the circle of life. Nowadays composting still occurs in nature, but it also occurs through human controlled processes.
While it is scientifically a quite complex thing to understand, the actual work needed in order for composting to work is very simple and easy for most anyone to grasp. In fact, during the centuries before scientists were able to explain why it was happening, farmers in various parts of the world took part in composting to some degree as a method for maintaining the health of their gardens.
Scientifically speaking, what happens during composting is that materials break down to their most basic forms. To put it more simply, they decompose which, as you can see, is a word that shares a common root as compost. After the materials decompose they end up in a state that is known in the science world as humus. It is in this state that the decomposed materials are actually of use to the living things around it.
Humus refers to materials that are in their most stable state. They have decomposed as far as they can go and, if they were to remain untouched, the material will remain in that stable state for hundreds or even thousands of years without undergoing any more changes. Biologically speaking, the chemical makeup of humus and its reactions with the oxygen in the environment around it create what is essential food for plant life.
In nature, one of the easiest ways to see composting in action is to walk through a forest at the right time of year. After leaves have fallen to the ground they begin a relatively quick process of decomposition. This compost is used to feed the forest ground and it aids in the growth of all the plant life therein. The smell created by this whole process is quite distinct, and is one of the reasons many forests strike the senses differently from season to season.
In the world of human controlled agriculture, composting is something that involves a little bit of work in order to make it work. First of all, any compostable waste must be collected so as to be brought to a composting site. These sites could include a private garden or a government run landfill.
The compost can then be left alone in order to do what comes naturally or it can be helped along so as to speed things up. In order to make the composting happen quicker, it can be heated and things like worms can be added to it. Both of these things speed up the process of humification and, in fact, adding worms to compost is quite common.