The Garden Guide

Book: Gardening Science - Soils, Manure and the Environment
Chapter: Chapter 2: Manure

The process of decay in compost

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1260. The process of decay is more rapid in some cases than in others; but if any fresh vegetable matter which contains sugar, mucilage, starch, or other of the vegetable compounds soluble in water, be moistened, and exposed to the air, at a temperature of from 55ᆭ to 80ᆭ, oxygen will soon be absorbed, and carbonic acid formed; heat will be produced, and elastic fluids, principally carbonic acid, gaseous oxide of carbon, and hydro-carbonate will be evolved; a dark-coloured liquid, of a slightly sour or bitter taste, will likewise be formed; and if the process be suffered to continue for a time sufficiently long, nothing solid will remain, except earthy and saline matters, coloured black by charcoal. The dark-coloured fluid formed in the fermentation always contains acetic acid; and when albumen or gluten exists in the vegetable substance, it likewise contains volatile alkali. In proportion as there is more gluten, albumen, or matters soluble in water, in the vegetable substances exposed to fermentation, so in proportion, all other circumstances being equal, will the process be more rapid. Pure woody fibre alone undergoes a change very slowly; but its texture is broken down, and it is easily resolved into new compounds, when mixed with substances more liable to change, containing more nitrogen and hydrogen. Volatile and fixed oils, resins, and wax, are more susceptible of change than woody fibre, when exposed to air and water; but much less liable than the other vegetable compounds; and even the most inflammable substances, by the absorption of oxygen, become gradually soluble in water. Animal matters in general are more liable to decompose than vegetable substances; oxygen is absorbed and carbonic acid and ammonia formed in the process of their putrefaction. They produce fetid, compound, elastic fluids, and likewise azote: they afford dark-coloured acid and oily fluids, and leave a residuum of salts and earths mixed with carbonaceous matter.