Is my compost ready?

bethardern(z5OH)April 28, 2009

I am new to composting. I built a pile in early Feb. I layered chopped leaves, cow manure, bedding straw, soil and lots of kitchen scraps. The pile got nice and hot during March but is now cold. The only material identifiable is the straw and an occaisional eggshell. Is this pile ready or do I just need to get the pile hot again? I'd really like to use it now but don't want to risk buring my new plants with the manure component. Thank you in advance for your advice.

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nancybeetoo(wOR USDAz8)

I would suggest turning it. If it heats up again then it wasn't done. If there are anaerobic stinky spots then turning it will expose those to oxygen.

I also suggest buying a compost thermometer at least 18 inches long. The thermometer will tell you what is happening in the core of the pile.

Nancy in western Oregon

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 3:26PM
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When a compost pile is done:

You can't tell what the ingredients were
dark brown in color
slight earthy smell

I suspect that this being your first pile, the composting slowed down rather than was completed.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 6:45PM
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There are some rudimentary tests one can try. Not absolutely conclusive but a negative result tells a lot.

One such link;

Simple methods of evaluating compost quality and maturity


    Bookmark   April 30, 2009 at 6:58PM
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Thank you for your help. After the first response I turned the entire pile. In 2 days it was warm again, not steaming as before but at least warm. Thank you for the link. That was helpful. I really want to use my own compost for summer planting as I have had to use bagged for all the spring planting. Is ther any use in working partially composted materials into soil or had I just better wait?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 7:26AM
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There are those that will state emphatically that unfinished compost should never, ever be put in a garden that the undigested material will "rob" your soil of Nitrogen because the soil bacteria will get busy and finish digesting that leaving little available N for your plants. That will depend on how much undigested material there is and many of us do have some of that unless we screen that compost. Also whether to do that is related to when you will be planting. If this compost were to be worked into the soil 4 to 6 months before anything would be planted there it makes little difference, but if you are going to plant seedlings a few days afterwards that could. Working that compost into the soil and then seeding that soil may not be a problem. Then again it depends on how good a soil you have to start with.
Sorry if all that seems a bit equivacable but there are too many variables.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 9:02AM
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I can tell you what I'd do with that compost if it were mine. I'd be spreading it all over my garden and forking it in, or I'd be applying it around my favorite plants as mulch. And I'd have done it yesterday when the weather was so beautiful here.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 11:06AM
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