Q. I started a compost
pile last summer with grass clippings
and plant debris from my flower and vegetable gardens. How can I
tell if it is ready to use when I prepare my gardens?
Compost that is thoroughly "done" has a fresh earthy smell, and you
cannot identify the original components. It has a crumbly, humusy
appearance, and its pH, or level of acidity or alkalinity, is close
to neutral (7.0). Actively
composting piles generate heat, while finished compost has cooled
off to the ambient air temperature or just slightly higher. A
finished compost pile should be about half its original size. If you
want to test it, sift a little compost and sow lettuce seed in it.
If the lettuce germinates and grows, it is probably fine to use as a
Compost ready for use in the garden
If you have turned the pile regularly, maintained proper moisture levels and
paid some attention to the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, you can have
finished compost in four to six months. If you do not compost as
actively, it can take a year or so for the compost to finish.
compost can tie up the available nitrogen in the soil, which causes
nitrogen deficiency in the plants growing here. Avoid the problem by
making sure compost is finished before tilling it in, or add some
fertilizer that contains nitrogen to make up for the deficiency.
cup of 10-10-10 per three bushels of compost should be sufficient.
Another FAQ about composting...
I started a compost pile last year, but I got lazy about turning it.
Everything still seems to be decomposing. Do you really have to
worry about carbon to nitrogen ratios and turning the pile
Composting fanatics will say “yes,” but the lazy method of
composting works as long as you are not in a hurry for the finished
product. The instructions for strict carbon to nitrogen ratios
(preferably 30 parts carbon to one part nitrogen) and frequent
turning are intended for those who want to make a lot of usable
compost in the shortest time possible. The lazy method takes six
months to two years for the finished product, while intensively
managed compost piles can be ready to use in 30 days.
Although it is not a good idea to
compost diseased and heavily insect-infested plant material, you
should definitely avoid doing so if you use the lazy method of
composting. Even intensively managed compost piles may not heat up
enough to destroy insect eggs and disease-causing organisms; the
lazy composting method definitely will not.
Cover Crops for your
Planting in the Shade