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is my compost finished?  RSS feed

 
Adam Buchler
Posts: 70
Location: New Jersey
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So back in the Fall i collected all the neighbors leaves and and made a compost pile with yard waste leaves and manure. Within the next day or two the pile was 130-150 degree range. Lasted for a couple weeks and then I turned it adding more manure and it started cooking again. I believe it maintained temps through mid december(I live in NJ so winters are fairly cold here). Now, two days ago I got about 80lb of manure( the pile is is about 1.5 cubic yards) and turned the pile while adding the manure in layers as I did before. Made sure the pile was properly wet as I turned it. A good squeeze of compost in my hand gave a few drops of water. This is the level of moisture that I maintained the first two times I turned it. So the issue is that my pile is not cooking at all right now. It's the same temp as the outside air. It looks nicely decomposed but there are still identifiable parts in it so I figured that it needed to decompose more. I should mention that this is the first compost pile that I have made so I don't necessarily know what the finished product should look like. If the moisture, size, and amount of manure are seemingly appropriate and the pile is not up to temp within the first couple days does that mean that its done?
 
John Polk
steward
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Was the manure that you added 'fresh', or was it already 'aged?
That would make a huge difference.

If it was aged, it would not reheat the pile. Just adding finished manure to finished compost.

If it was fresh, and your existing compost was already 'finished', there would not be enough carbon matter in there to create a 'live mix'.

There comes a time when compost must be used. You cannot just keep adding to it, else it will become a life long project that will never end. Even if it is not 100% finished, the process is still going on, and if you add it to your soil, the soil microbes will delight in the opportunity to finish the job for you. Don't forget that many people just turn green material directly into the soil...nature has a way of handling decaying matter...you can either add it raw, or finished...either way, it will feed your soil food web.

Hope that this helps.

 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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Adam, it sounds to me like your pile is pretty well done. Remember that it is normal to screen compost for use in potting, which should tell you that even "finished" compost is still going to have some bits and pieces.

Now, if by recognizable you mean that a carrot slice is still identifiable and that lettuce leaf just looks wilted - well, no, that would not be finished

But some sticks, a few leaves that still look like leaves, that can be expected in a finished pile.
 
John Elliott
pollinator
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A compost pile is not a cake; it doesn't have to come out of the oven at just the right time.

Since the temperature has returned to ambient, what has finished is the decomposition by aerobic bacteria. There is not enough 'food' left in the pile for them to raise the temperature of it with their metabolic processes. Even though there are a few pieces that look like they didn't finish what you put on their plate. However, there is still lots of 'food' in the pile to support fungal decomposition. If you spread this compost out now, it will have plenty of nutrients for soil fungi to work on. They will continue breaking down complex molecules and making them available to plant roots.

The nice thing about fungal decomposition is that you don't have to do very much to get it going or keep it going. No balancing of the browns and the greens. No turning of the pile. Just leave it to rot.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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sounds like your pile was getting close to done and then you added manure to it, which now it needs more stuff to decompose with (aka leaves and such)and more time to decompose.
 
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