Newsletter Paragon
Aerated Compost Systems


Composting Human Remains
Written by Peter Moon

Please watch this video before you read the following story.

In 2019, Washington became the first state to legalize Natural Organic Reduction (NOR), or the composting of human remains. Today, Return Home is one of two NOR facilities in Washington serving the needs of individuals who have passed, and their families left behind. Return Home refers to the NOR process as “Terramation”. The Return Home facility was constructed over an eight-month period and became operational in June 2021.

To learn more, read the rest of the story on our Blog.

Terramation Graphic

Composting 101


Composting requires an understanding of several basic principles, but book-learning only goes so far. To fully understanding the art and science of composting, one must gain hands-on experience and a considerable amount of practice. (More)

Most people encounter four psychological stages when learning a new skill.  The four stages include:

1.  Unconscious Incompetence :     You don’t know what you don’t know
2.  Conscious Incompetence :     You know what you don’t know
3.  Conscious Competence :     You know what you know
4.  Unconscious Competence :     You don’t know what you know

With regard to composting, most people have a basic understanding that it involves a natural process that converts raw organic materials into something that looks like soil.  But when we use the phrase “aerated composting”, most people aren’t quite sure what that means (Stage 1).

I then explain that “aerated composting” means that we introduce airflow into the compost pile to maintain aerobic conditions throughout the pile in order to optimize the biology of the system, and that turning the pile is not required.  I go on to say that the net result of this biologic process is the production of heat and that we utilize this heat to destroy pathogens, parasites and weed seeds in the mix to produce a high quality finished product in about 60-days.  Just before their eyes glaze over, they likely say to themselves, “There’s more to this than I thought” (Stage 2).

With the O2Compost Training Program, we teach people the step by step process to compost (let’s say) the manure and waste bedding produced by 6-horses, and we guide them through our training process from beginning to end.  At first they may think, “What have I gotten myself into” but they dutifully monitor the composting process, make note of their observations and ask a lot of questions.  Together we refine their method of operating the system so that it works effectively and automatically with every new batch (Stage 3).

They then go on to operate their O2Compost System completely on their own, and week after week, year after year they continue to compost without giving it a second thought.  At this point they seldom take pile temperatures anymore because they “just know by the way it looks and smells” that everything is working just fine.  They say to their friends, “It’s really quite easy – my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner” (Stage 4).

The First Corollary of Rule 2: “You can’t learn to ride a bicycle at a seminar”


QUESTION: How can I tell when my compost is done?

ANSWER:  The answer to this question assumes that you have completed the first 30 days of composting (Active Phase) and are nearing the end of the second 30 days of composting (Curing).

The first indication that your compost is nearing completion is a drop in pile temperature. For small piles, the temperature will typically be well below 100oF after 60 days. However, compost is self-insulating and larger piles (say over 10 cubic yards) can maintain comparatively high temperatures, making temperature a somewhat misleading parameter. 

When compost is “done”, most of the physical structure of the feedstocks will have degraded to more of a soil-like consistency. However this too can be misleading. The woody fraction in compost breaks down slowly and, therefore, you’ll see sticks, chips or shavings that are darker but have otherwise retained much of their original appearance. This is also true of horse manure balls that will have changed color throughout but retain some of their structure.

In my opinion, the most reliable way to judge whether the compost process is done is to smell it. It should have a mild, “friendly” organic fragrance. This is often referred to as a “forest-duff odor”. If your compost smells sweet (like chewing tobacco) or if it has an unpleasant sour odor (like a stale sponge), it’s not done yet. “Time heals all wounds”.

The tried and true method to evaluate compost quality is to conduct laboratory tests; however, lab tests can be pricey and the data is often difficult to interpret. For this reason I recommend using a laboratory that is familiar with testing compost. One that I often recommend is Wallace Labs in El Segundo, California. Dr. Garn Wallace provides a comprehensive compost test for about $250 and he will spend whatever time you need to understand the test results.

Lab test results are a good start to understanding the quality of a finished compost product but growth trials will tell you much more about how plants will respond to using the compost as a soil amendment (tilled into the soil) or as a mulch layer (applied to the surface).

This spring, I suggest that you combine a screened sample of your compost with bagged potting soil (any brand will work). Prepare thee sets of pots (9 inch all) where three of the pots contain only the bagged potting soil; three contain the compost and potting soil at a 1:1 ratio; and three contain only screened compost. In each of the three sets of pots, plant 3 to 5 pea, bean and tomato seeds (as illustrated below).

Potting Soil Illustration

Place the pots in a sunny location for 3 to 4 weeks and be sure to keep them watered. Take notes on how long it takes for each of the pots to germinate and how vigorously the plants grow. At the third or fourth leaf stage, pull the seedlings from the soil and compare the amount of growth above and below the soil level. With good quality compost, the 50:50 blend should outperform the others.

Client Testimonial

Steve Churchill
Urban Worm Company - Plymouth Meeting, PA
Composting Since:  2019

head shot

"We chose O2Compost based on Peter Moon's reputation within the industry and the excellent customer support that he offers to all of his clients, big and small. The system works wonderfully. We couldn't be happier."


New Benchmark System

Matheny Benchmark System

Owner:  John M.
Location:  Woodside, CA