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Compost Happens (Part 5)

BioBag Employee Sharpens the Saw

Sandwiched in between Earth Day last week and International Composting Awareness week next week, I thought it would be perfect timing to conclude the 5 Part Series of Compost Happens – BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw with, Part 5 – Identifying finished compost and how to apply it correctly.
Finished Compost
Now that you are a composting guru from reading Parts 1 – 4 as well as getting hands-on experience with the process which included learning all about composting, identifying compost’s resident creatures, finding the ideal location and assembling your compost pile. I’m also sure you have been adding proportional brown/green organics to it for months, as well as turning the pile and monitoring its progress. So, how can you tell when it is finally ready?

Here are some simple tips that let you know all your hard work, and the efforts of the microbes, have paid off.

Ding! Compost is Done!

The compost should be ready to use after 1 – 12 months, depending on the thoroughness of your management and how finely the pieces of organics were shredded when added to the pile.

The compost pile isn’t generating a substantial amount of heat as it did during the most active cycle.

The material will look dark, will be crumbly, fairly dry and have an earthly odor. You shouldn’t have any recognizable organics.

Where to put It, What to do with it?

Depending on the intended use, the compost can be put through a ½ inch screen before using. The larger particles can be returned to the pile for further decomposition if needed.

Soil Amendment: The compost can be worked into the garden soil adding beneficial nutrients. Do this by adding a layer of 1 – 3 inches. The compost also increases a sandy’s soil ability to retain moisture, improves drainage of clayey soil, increases biological activity of earthworms, reduces the adverse effect of excessive acidity and allows the plant to hold more nutrients for longer periods of time.

Potting Mix: Compost can be blended with perlite, soil, sand and other potting materials to make a great potting mix for your plants.

Mulch: Compost as mulch is extremely valuable because it reduces rainfall runoff, decreases water evaporation loss, helps control weeds and keeps the soil cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. Apply a 2 – 3 inch layer on the top of soil around trees, flowers, shrubs and other plants.

Compost Tea: “Compost tea” can be used to water your plants, adding the advantageous nutrients from the compost. Fill a burlap bag with compost and place in a barrel of water, then use the water to fertilize and hydrate your plants.

Now, keep up the good work and continue the cycle. Your garden, your wallet and the earth will thank you!

Compost Garden

Great idea: Why don’t you take before and after photos of your yard? You’ll be amazed at the drastic difference between the photos. Just for fun, send those to us. We’d love to see them!

If you would like to take a composting class, check out your local county website. My class was put on for FREE by the Florida Cooperative Extensive Service of the University of Florida. There are classes just like this one across the U.S

Compost Happens (Part 4 – Maintaining Your Pile)

BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw

Once you have decided on which type of compost pile you wish to have – a holding unit or a turning unit – it is time for the fun part – composting!
Composting

Turning the Compost Pile

Composting might appear to a novice as terribly complicated and only for the green thumbed gardener, but anyone can do it! The below outline of how to manage a compost system is mainly for a holding unit.

Location, Location, Location!

How to Make Your Neighbors Green with Envy

Once your compost unit is built and in a prime location, you are now ready to add the ingredients! It is recommended that you add mixed green and brown materials in 4” layers, making sure to water each layer separately as you add them. If you need a refresher on what materials can and should be composted, revisit Compost Happens – BioBag Employee Sharpens The Saw (Part 2)

In the early days, your compost pile will be very warm. It might even steam a little, but no need to sound the fire alarm since this is normal. Heating indicates that the material is composting normally.

In order to maintain your neighbors envy with the perfect compost, you will need to turn your pile frequently with a pitchfork, shovel or tool. By turning the pile frequently you are helping provide oxygen to the compost-creating microbes. More microbes = Faster decomposition = Quicker compost.

Check the temperature of your pile on a regular basis and turn the pile when it reaches about 140F+ or below 100F. If it is too difficult to monitor the temperature on an ongoing basis, just try to turn the pile about twice a week.

Also, regularly check the moisture level. Add water to the pile if it looks too dry. A good rule of thumb is to add water every time you turn the pile. If the compost looks too wet, add more dry browns to the pile.

Make sure you monitor the odor as well. Too much water in the system causes overly strong, odorous piles. If this is the case try adding more browns to the pile like mentioned above.

So how do you know when the compost is ready? … Be on the look-out for Part 5: Identifying finished compost and how to apply it correctly.