The life of a compost microbe

The life of a compost microbe

It’s probably best to preface that we have taken enormous liberties with this piece in the humanising a single-cell compost microbe. To be clear, mesophiles cannot form conscious thought and do not have any of the complex social structures we have used here.

Without further ado, please enjoy the fantastical life of one of the many billions of bacteria that live in any given compost environment.

Day 0

Meet Sam. Sam is a gram-positive, single-cell bacteria, more specifically, a ,,Bacillus subtilis. He’s totally harmless to humans, most commonly found in soil and, right now, is just sitting on some carrot peelings in the bottom of a compost bin, along with billions more just like him.

It’s pretty dark and humid but he’s got his carrot so he just keeps growing away on that.

Day 3

“Hmmm, is it starting to get hot in here?”

Day 5

Sam is taking his last breaths. As the temperature inside the pile climbs to over 40˚C, he feels himself going dark.

All of a sudden, there’s a rumbling noise! The carrot is shaking. Light is streaming in. Sam is lifted into the open air as the compost is turned over and dumped back on the top. The temperature out here is a balmy 28˚C and he lives to decompose another day.

Day 15

The rumbling returns. The compost beneath Sam gives way and with a thud, a heap of it is dumped on top of him. He’s back in the middle of the pile but it’s definitely more manageable and very slowly getting cooler.

There’s less food around though. There’s no sign of his carrot anywhere and the only thing he can get into is a bundle of twigs.

Day 25

There’s one last rumble and the whole pile is poured on the ground into a garden bed. Sam is pretty hungry by now so he’s keen to see all sorts of organic material in the soil that he can get into. There’s even another carrot!

Eventually, that carrot gets pulled out, taken back to the kitchen, peeled and sent straight into the compost, along with Sam the Bacillus Subtilis.


As previously stated, this depiction of a compost microbe is dramatised and distorted to an exceptional point. What isn’t though is the vital role that these microbes play in the process of decomposition. With the current pandemic going on, microorganisms have started to get a bit of a bad rep but they remain one of the most important parts of so many environmental processes.

So, when it comes to your compost, spare a thought for Sam and put away the hand sanitizer.

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