Why does compost heat up?

Microorganisms that live in the intense compost heat of an active compost pile are the same kinds of bacteria living in hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. Why your compost pile gets so hot ?

Compost is made by piling up dead plant parts — such as grass, coffee grounds, food scraps, and leaves — and letting them decay, or get broken down by bacteria and fungi. Chemicals inside the bodies of bacteria — called enzymes — break down the organic material and produce carbon dioxide, water — and heat.

A compost pile can get so hot that it steams. To understand where the compost heat comes from, first you have to know that organic molecules are made up of many atoms held together by chemical bonds. When the molecules are broken down, atoms are pulled apart and the energy that was stored in their chemical bonds is released as heat. A single gram of compost can contain billions of bacteria — and that results in a lot of heat. For short periods of time, it can get as hot as 80 degrees Celsius — 176 degrees Fahrenheit — deep inside the compost pile.

Composting creates soil-like stuff called humus that can be mixed into your garden soil. It’s full of plant nutrients, and it lets the soil to hold more water. It’s estimated that about half of our total waste could be composted — you can imagine how that could shrink a landfill.

At those high temperatures, many microorganisms that are human or plant pathogens are destroyed. compost heat-loving bacteria.Most species of microorganisms cannot survive at temperatures above 60-65¡C, so compost managers turn or aerate their systems to bring the temperature down if they begin to get this hot.

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