According to the dictionary, compost is "a mixture of decomposing vegetable refuse, manure, etc. for fertilizing and conditioning the soil." The Practical Handbook of Compost Engineering defines composting with a mouthful: "The biological decomposition and stabilization of organic substrates, under conditions that allow development of thermophilic temperatures as a result of biologically produced heat, to produce a final product that is stable, free of pathogens and plant seeds, and can be beneficially applied to land."
The On-Farm Composting Handbook says that compost is "a group of organic residues or a mixture of organic residues and soil that have been piled, moistened, and allowed to undergo aerobic biological decomposition." The Compost Council adds their two cents worth in defining compost: "Compost is the stabilized and sanitized product of composting; compost is largely decomposed material and is in the process of humification (curing). Compost has little resemblance in physical form to the original material from which it is made." That last sentence should be particularly reassuring to the humanure composter.
J. I. Rodale states it a bit more eloquently: "Compost is more than a fertilizer or a healing agent for the soil's wounds. It is a symbol of continuing life . . . The compost heap is to the organic gardener what the typewriter is to the writer, what the shovel is to the laborer, and what the truck is to the truckdriver." 4
In general, composting is a process managed by humans involving the cultivation of microorganisms that degrade organic matter in the presence of oxygen. When properly managed, the compost becomes so heavily populated with thermophilic microorganisms that it generates quite a bit of heat. Compost microorganisms can be so efficient at converting organic material into humus that the phenomenon is nothing short of miraculous.
Source: The Humanure Handbook. Jenkins Publishing,
PO Box 607, Grove City, PA 16127. To order, phone: 1-800-639-4099.