The Organisms in Your Compost

Learn about the microbiomes created in a successful compost pile and what tiny creatures are at work from the tiny invertebrates to familiar fungi.

  • Many healthy organisms living in your compost help it properly break down.
    Photo by Pixabay/GAD-BM
  • “Compost City” by Rebecca Louie teaches readers how to best make and use their own compost in small living spaces.
    Photo courtesy of Roost Books

Compost City (Roost Books, 2015) by Rebecca Louie is a comprehensive and complete guide to creating and using your own compost in a small living space. Louie helps you find ways to work around a tiny space, a busy schedule, and hectic lifestyle to achieve your composting goals. In this excerpt, she

While browns and greens are essential to composting, they only provide the venue and the buffet. A vast web of critters, creatures, and itty-bitty beings do all of the work of transforming browns and greens into black gold. Composters fondly refer to them as the F.B.I.: fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates. Check out their dossiers.


Why did the mushroom get invited to the compost dance party?

Because he’s a fungi (geddit, fun-guy?) . . . and he can sure break it down!

Fungi are microorganisms that include molds, mushrooms, and yeasts. Common in cooler temperatures, they do a great job of decompos­ing cellulose and lignin, the woodier components of plant matter that can be too dry, acidic, or low in nitrogen for bacteria to work on. Fungi perform this vital task by squirting enzymes into their food and noshing on the nutrients released in this process. This occurs predominantly in meso­philic temperatures, which range from 40 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Fungi are most commonly found in compost made from leafy, woody ma­terials. If you’d like your compost to be more fungally dominated, make sure to work lots of landscaping waste into your pile.


Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that exist virtually everywhere. In fact, they are inside your body right now, about a hundred trillion of them, or ten times the number of cells you have. (Are you freaking out? Don’t.)



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