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What is Aerobic Composting?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Aerobic composting is the creation of fertilizing compost that relies on bacteria that thrive in an oxygen-rich environment. It is different from anaerobic composting, which relies on bacteria that can’t thrive in the presence of oxygen. As a general rule, aerobic composting is considered the fastest method of composting, and it has some advantages when it comes to creating particularly suitable compost. Anaerobic composting is known to work much more slowly, but it also requires less work, so it is preferred by some people.

Composting is basically the process of taking dead organic materials and piling them up so that they can rot. Over time, they actually turn into a kind of fertilized soil product. The rich-looking black kind of soil that is often used to grow plants is usually some kind of compost. The materials used to make compost vary quite a bit, but usually weeds, dead leaves, and grass clippings are all a big part of the process.

The big difference in terms of the work process with aerobic composting and anaerobic composting is how often the compost is turned. With both systems, a heap of compostable material is moistened with water and left to rot for a period of time. Eventually, the temperature of the rotting matter will rise because of bacterial activity, and then it will begin to fall as the bacteria run out of oxygen and start dying.

Once the bacteria start to die in aerobic composting, the farmer will stir up the material, or turn it, to get more oxygen into the heap. This reinvigorates the bacteria and keeps the process going. With anaerobic composting, everything is left alone even after things heat up, and new bacteria will invade that don’t need oxygen to survive. This approach is sometimes more than twice as slow, and apparently, it produces a more unpleasant odor.

The temperature of the compost heap is considered an important part of the process because the heat has a tendency to kill off undesirable things in the compost, such as seeds from weeds, for example. The aerobic process produces significantly more heat than the anaerobic process, and this is one of the main reasons why many farmers prefer the former. Some farmers will also use a combination approach where they leave may leave a pile a little longer than desirable before turning it. This allows the anaerobic bacteria to get established, but not take over the pile. Once the pile is turned, the aerobic bacteria are able to reestablish themselves.

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Discussion Comments
By Sporkasia — On Mar 04, 2014

I have tried both the aerobic and the anaerobic compost systems, and my experience has been in line with what was written in the article.

If you are planning to have a compost barrel near the house then I would advise you to go with the aerobic method for the exact reason mentioned in the article. With this method you will not have the overpowering odor of rotting organic material.

If you live on a larger property and can keep the compost pile farther from the house where the odor is not an issue then the anaerobic method would work better in this scenario than it would close to the house. Keep in mind that you will have to walk a greater distance to reach the pile with fresh material for composting.

I have used both systems at the same time and this worked well. While I was waiting for the anaerobic pile to decompose, I was able to use the compost from the aerobic pile because it was ready much sooner.

By Animandel — On Mar 03, 2014

I am planning to make a compost bin this year, and have been thinking and reading about the best way to go about this. Is there anyone who has tried both the aerobic and the anaerobic methods of composting? If so, I would like to hear about your experiences. How do the two methods compare?

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