Composting isn’t as difficult as some people make it out to be. If the right amount of green and brown ingredients are added and your heap is aerated at least twice weekly, your compost may be ready for use in as little as 3 months. But this isn’t always the case. The size of the pile and other factors may prolong the process. Since there is no exact timeframe, your knowledge of specific qualities to look out for in finished compost will come in handy. So, how do you know when your compost is ready? Enough ado, let’s get right into it.
Your compost is ready if it feels, smells and looks like rich, crumbly, dark-brown earth. Finished compost will not emanate any rotting odor. Except for a few stubborn materials, finished composed should break down completely and should have shrunk by half the original size of the compost.
In this article, we will take you through the processes to follow after your compost is ready. You will also learn various ways you can store your compost after it is finished. What’s more? You will learn how to speed up the composting process if your pile is lagging behind. Read on.
How long does it take for compost to be ready to use?
Compost will be finished in 3 months to a year. However, the exact time is dependent on factors such as your climate, the size of your pile and the materials you put in. If you have a well-balanced pile that is properly aerated, your compost will be ready in about 6 months. It may, however, take longer if the conditions are not right.
How do I know my compost is ready for use?
You will know that your compost is ready for use if it looks and smells like rich, dark brown earth. Also, finished compost will not have any putrid odor neither will it smell like ammonia. Finished compost will also return to air temperature.
While organic materials should break down completely in finished compost, it’s okay if there are a few recognizable stubborn materials. Before you use the compost, ensure it is properly screened or filtered out. However, if there are too many partly decomposed material in your compost, then it is not ready for use.
6 ways you can use your finished compost
1. Compost can be used as mulch
Finished compost can be used as mulch in your garden. Since compost is naturally absorbent, applying it to your soil surface will prevent evaporation after watering. It will also insulate your soil from extreme temperatures, improve moisture retention, and provide nutrients for your soil.
2. It can also be used for compost tea
Compost tea is a great way to add nutrients to your plants. It can be made by filling a bag with compost, adding it to a bucket of water, letting it sit for a few hours before using the resulting liquid to water the garden.
The extract is high in micronutrients and will act as a fertilizer for your plants.
3. Add compost to your plants
Finished compost can be used to grow cucumbers, melons, eggplants, tomatoes, and melons. These heavy feeders need a lot of nitrogen to thrive. Adding compost to these plants will boost their growth.
4. It can be used to maintain the quality of your soil
Using compost on your lawns will maintain the quality of your soil. Before planting, add 2 to 3″ layer of compost to your garden. You can top-dress an existing lawn with ½” layer of compost. This will provide nutrients for your plants and improve the tilth of your soil
5. Potting soil
Your finished compost can be added to your potting soil. Before you use it, ensure you remove large debris by screening your compost. Add one part compost, one part vermiculite, and one part topsoil. Unfinished compost should not be used for your potting soil.
6. Use as a soil amendment
Compost can also be used as a soil amendment. Applying finished compost to your soil will help increase the amount of organic matter. Whether it is applied during planting or as a side-dress, the benefit will remain the same.
How to speed up the composting process
So you need your compost in a hurry but you have no idea how to speed up the composting process. Well, these tips will do a world of difference for your compost and ensure it is ready in time for whatever reason you need it for
Keep the right balance
Keeping the right balance in your pile will enable it to decompose faster. Ensure there is a balance of brown materials (which are rich in nitrogen) and green materials (which are rich in carbon).
Brown materials include dry leaves, paper, sawdust, corn stalks, etc. Green materials include grass clippings, kitchen scraps, alfalfa hay, seaweed, and fresh prunings from your garden.
Shred or chop ingredients into smaller bits
You can speed up the composting process by shredding your ingredients into smaller pieces. It is no secret that smaller pieces will take less time to decompose. Leaves, newspaper, cardboard, etc. need to be shredded into smaller pieces before it is added into your compost pile. Some experts recommend blending kitchen scraps before adding to the bin. This makes decomposition easier and gives the added benefit of moisture to your pile.
Wood should also be chopped into smaller parts.
Keep your COMPOST pile moist
Water is very essential when making compost. Always check the moisture level of your pile and sprinkle water on it, if dry. Ensure you don’t add too much. Your compost should be moist like a damp sponge, not waterlogged or soggy.
Turn your COMPOST pile
Turning your piles exposes it to air and heat needed for decomposition. Microbes need oxygen to do their work, so your turning your pile at least twice weekly will speed up the process.
If you use a compost tumbler, you only need to barrel regularly. If you use an open compost pile, poke around the pile with a shovel or garden fork. Alternatively, you can make use of a compost aerator.
What is curing?
Curing is the final stage in the composting process. Before your compost is used in the garden, it needs to be cured. This process allows for partly decomposed particles to break down completely at a low temperature. During curing earthworms and other organisms that are intolerant to heat will move back to the compost, further enriching it. This process should take about 45 days. During the curing period, make sure the compost is aerated and moist.
To test the maturity of your compost, put some in a pot and plant some quick-growing seeds. You will know that your compost is ready for application if 75% or more of the seed sprout.
How can I store my finished compost?
Compost can be stored in different ways. Your method of storing will depend on how long you intend to keep the compost. If you plan to use your compost after a short while, you can store your it on the ground, bin or tumbler. Except your pile is exposed to extreme weather conditions, your finished compost will be okay.
Ensure it is turned from time to time and remember to keep it slightly moistened.
Store on the ground
When storing finished compost for long-term use, you need to plan properly. Storing your finished compost on the ground is beneficial. Firstly, it allows worms to get into the pile and help with the process of decomposing It also provides humidity while preventing excess moisture in your heap.
If you have enough space and don’t mind the sight of finished compost in your yard, you should leave it on the ground. During rainfall, cover your heap with a tarp. This will protect it from becoming washing away, and contain the heat needed for required chemical reactions.
Use plastic bags
I’m obviously not a plastic bag fan but you can store compost by using plastic bags. Fill your bags with finished compost. Makes holes all over the bag to enable air to get into it.
Alternatively, you can use fabric shopping bags. However, be sure you check the level of compost moisture once weekly to ensure it is not getting too wet or too dry. Also, store the bags containing the compost on wooden surfaces to prevent rotting.
You can store your compost in garbage bins. Ensure you drill holes on the top and bottom of the can to encourage aeration and discourage your compost from getting muddy.
Can compost go bad?
To get the best benefit, compost should not be stored over a long period of time.However,unless it is improperly stored, compost will not go bad. Even after it is ‘finished’, compost will continue to break down. Depending on how long it is stored, there might be a little volume loss. Also, compost may lose some nutrients if stored for a long period of time.
To keep the compost viable and add more organisms to your heap, you can add more green and brown materials. Alternatively, you can mix your finished compost with an almost finished batch.