Composting: Speeding Up Mother Nature
Composting is just the process of accelerating the natural forces of decomposition. If we understand what makes up the decomposition process, we can do a better job of getting our compost pile to work.
Simply put, nature's comes in waves to break down its waste products. In the first wave of an active compost pile, the bacteria in the pile start to consume the organic material in the pile. As they get more active and consume more food, their body heat will increase the temperature in the pile, up to 140 degrees F. Its this heating that can kill the weed seeds and some disease organisms, but be aware that will only happen in the hottest parts of the pile (in the middle).
After that actinomycetes (filamentous bacteria), fungi and protozoans go to work. Later, when much of the carbon material has been consumed and the temperature has fallen, the "larger creatures" like centipedes, millipedes, sow- bugs, earthworms move in to continue the breakdown of the pile.
All these organisms require large quantities of nitrogen. That's why most recipes for compost focus a lot on the carbon to nitrogen ratio of the materials, and the total pile. If the pile is high in carbon materials, adding nitrogen fertilizer, or other materials that supply nitrogen, will help speed the decomposition. The nitrogen is released when composting is complete and the compost is put in the garden.