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Compost Particle Size
Microorganisms are not capable of chewing or mechanically attacking food. Their primary method of eating is to secrete digestive enzymes that break down and then dissolve organic matter. Some larger single-cell creatures can surround or envelop and then "swallow" tiny food particles. Once inside the cell this material is then attacked by similar digestive enzymes.
Since digestive enzymes attack only outside surfaces, the greater the surface area the composting materials present the more rapidly microorganisms multiply to consume the food supply. And the more heat is created. As particle size decreases, the amount of surface area goes up just about as rapidly as the number series used a few paragraphs back to illustrate the multiplication of microorganisms.
The surfaces presented in different types of soil similarly affect plant growth so scientists have carefully calculated the amount of surface areas of soil materials. Although compost heaps are made of much larger particles than soil, the relationship between particle size and surface area is the same. Clearly, when a small difference in particle size can change the amount of surface area by hundreds of times, reducing the size of the stuff in the compost pile will:
- expose more material to digestive enzymes;
- greatly accelerate decomposition;
- build much higher temperatures.
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