The Q&A Archives: Compost Curiosity

Question: I recently rented a house with a wonderful yard and permission to plant at will. Apparently the tennant before had gardened too, and had acquired a compost pile in one corner. There is a layer of decomposing matter underneath that is a layer of thick, wet, smooth - I want to say it's clay - but it looks just like bacon grease, although it smells of earth. There are no worms in it, but certainly around it, and bulbs have come up through it also. Can you tell me what it is?(Underneath this 'stuff' is earth, which I have been using and I'm assuming it is really rich, as what is planted in it is growing like nobody's business...)

Answer: Sounds like the former tenant had a passive compost pile, as opposed to a working compost pile. Either is acceptable; they both produce organic matter, but a working compost pile, where things are turned regularly, exposing them to air, will produce small particles of organic matter. This is called aerobic decomposition. Passive composting often produces layers of decomposed organic matter. What you've discovered is a layer of material that is decomposing without air (anaerobic fermentation). If you dig the layer and break it up, it will finish decomposing. Hope this solves the mystery!

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