Posted by: gillarbuthnott | March 19, 2020

Our Microbe Friends #3: The Wonders of Compost

Image result for garden compost heatStill talking rot tonight… Did you realise that if you have a compost heap in your garden, or if you put food waste out for recycling, you are enlisting an army of trillions of microbes to help you?

Making compost is like magic – but it’s just biology (mind you, I find biology pretty magical). I’ve just chucked an apple core on my compost heap; what’s going to happen to it?

First, the local cats will have a sniff, sneer, and stalk off. The local fox might have a quick look, but probably won’t be interested either. Birds will come down and peck at the flesh, and quite a few insects will have a nibble. Eventually, there may only be small pieces left. If you watched them, they would start to turn a bit wrinkly or slimy, and that would show you that decay had started. If you had mega-zoom vision, you would see that what was causing the decay was a mixture of bacteria and fungi and that they were breaking down what had been the apple cells and releasing the chemicals inside them. This might only take a few days if it’s warm and not too dry, but in winter, it could take weeks or even months.

Also in the heap will be lots of other compost heroes – worms. They will be chomping up leaves and digesting them – also releasing chemical nutrients – and the worm droppings will form soil. Yes, that’s right – a lot of what we call soil is worm poo!

If you leave dead plants and kitchen waste in a compost heap for long enough, they go from being smelly bits and pieces to deliciously dark, crumbly compost with a lovely, earthy scent. Congratulations – you’ve just made some great plant food. And you couldn’t have done it without your microbe friends!


  1. Huzzah for composting!

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