Depending on how you balance the factors of air, water, and the ratio of dry to wet ingredients, compost can take anywhere from a few months to years to mature for use in your garden.
So, how do you know when it’s ready?
Learning when to use your compost is one of the many rewarding things about eco-friendly gardening and helping protect the environment.
Signs that Compost Is Ready
One of the most common questions for people who are beginners at composting is, “When will I know it’s ready to use?”
There are some signs that you can look for to guide your decision:
- Mature compost is dark and crumbly, with a rich earthy smell that isn’t unpleasant or sour.
- You won’t see any large recognizable pieces of food or organic matter.
- The heat from “working” is gone out of the pile.
- The pile is noticeably smaller than when it started.
One trick for checking the compost is to put some in a container and seal it for a few days. If it has a sour or ammonia odor when you open it, leave the pile longer. It isn’t ready.
Also, if you see pieces of twigs or hard things like fruit seeds still visible, but the rest seems ready to use, you can screen it and go ahead.
It’s also recommended that you add the compost to your garden or lawn in the fall. Then, if it does need a bit more time, it can continue working during the winter.
What If the Compost Is Taking Too Long?
Because there are several factors that affect the rate of composting, the finish time can vary considerably.
However, if your pile seems to be working too slowly, check for the following:
- There is both green (wet) matter and brown (dry) matter.
- The pile is aerated or you’re turning it often enough.
- It is moist and humid, but not soggy.
- The size of the pile isn’t too big. Try to stay under 3 feet by 3 feet.
If you feel confused, talk with someone who is experienced with composting or works in a gardening center. There’s nothing like experienced advice to support an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.
How to Harvest Your Compost
Harvesting your compost mainly means taking the finished product from your bin or pile and transporting it to wherever you need it in the garden.
Generally, the mature compost is at the bottom of the pile, so getting at it will depend on the design of your compost bin or the size of your pile.
Some people use several bins or piles to stagger the maturity time of each. You can work with those that are ready and leave others until later.
How to Use Your Compost
Well-matured compost is an excellent fertilizer for your garden, lawn, herb garden, or houseplants. Use it liberally to improve the quality of the soil and plants.
You can mix the compost into the soil or you can use it on top of the soil. Either way will work well to increase the nutrient content.
To really step up your eco-friendly gardening efforts, collect rainwater to water your garden after you’ve applied your compost. It’s also great for keeping the compost pile moist.
Knowing when your compost is ready is one of the many pieces of knowledge you’ll acquire as you embark on your eco-friendly gardening journey.