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The Science of Compost

The Science of Compost: Life Death + Decay in the Garden by Julian Doberski

Writer Alys Fowler reviews Julian Doberski's book about the science of what's in your compost

Our review

What’s hiding in your compost bin? This is a thorough look at what makes up the habitat that is rotting garden material. A most educational read.

The Science of Compost: Life, Death + Decay in the Garden
by Julian Doberski
Pimpernel Press, £9.99
ISBN 978-1914902932


This book is truly for the compost geek and I, for one, have been waiting a long time for it. It takes a very serious, rigorous and thoroughly referenced deep dive into your compost heap. Not that this makes this book heavy in any way; it’s a breeze to read, but as it has science at its heart, it’s not going to forgo the fine detail.

First, there is a thorough discussion of the whats, whys and wherefores of the compost heap, which can roughly be broken down into living and chemical components.

Everything gets a look-in, from the largest (earthworms) to the smallest: the microscopic organisms that live on leaf surfaces, a habitat known as the phylloplane (there’s a good Scrabble word); those found within plant tissues (endophytes); and those associated with plant roots (the root microbiome).

This book is truly for the compost geek and I, for one, have been waiting a long time for it.

Thus, you learn that some invertebrates directly chew organic material – thank you
slugs, woodlice and millipedes – and that some graze on the microbial flora found on, in and around the surface of dead plant material. And because this is a web, rather than a chain, sometimes the big guys eat the small guys and a whole load of microbes dine on their faeces.

The book then delves further into matters of physicochemical and environmental decomposition – heat, moisture, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, sugars, pH and secondary metabolites.

The last chapter is a hymn to the importance of leaves, as leaf litter carries large amounts of microorganisms that aid the breakdown of organic matter. This chapter also acts as a reminder about why we might want to compost in the first place.


Interestingly, at no point in this book does the author tell you how to compost; there are already reams of literature on the topic, he says. This is primarily an analysis of the layers of the heap, and as such, an absolutely riveting read.