Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Tell if Compost is Finished

Compost, also called “black gold,” is a great way to fertilize gardens organically. Adding finished compost to the garden has many benefits, but did you know filling your beds with compost that is still decomposing can slow plant growth?

That’s why it’s important to know when compost is finished, or in other words, when it has finished decomposing and is ready to work its magic in the garden.

What is Finished Compost?

Finished compost is organic materials that have completed the decomposition process.

Characteristics of Finished Compost

Compost has many telltale signs that it has finished decomposing. Look for the following characteristics before adding black gold to the garden.

  • Dark Brown in Color
  • Sweet & Earthy Smell
  • Moist
  • Crumbly
  • Spongy
  • Non Identifiable Compost Ingredients

Finished Compost Test

Not sure if the compost pile has turned into black gold yet? There are 2 methods, recommended by Organic Gardening, to tell if it has truly finished decomposing. Here’s how:

Sniff Test: Scoop a handful of compost into a Mason jar, make sure it’s moist, and put the lid on. Place the jar in the sun for 3 days and then open it and take a big whiff. If it smells like freshly tilled soil, the compost is ready. If it gives off a foul odor of any kind, it needs more time to decompose.

Germination Test: Mix equal parts compost and potting soil in a pot and plant a few radish seeds. Mix the same amount of potting soil in a separate pot and plant more radish seeds. If the pots germinate the seeds at the same pace, the compost is finished. If the pot with the compost germinates and grows the seeds at a slower rate, than the compost isn’t finished yet.

Finished compost can be added to the garden any time of year. If you have unfinished compost by the time fall rolls around, go ahead and add it to the garden so it will have plenty of time to finish decomposing before the growing season begins the following spring.

Additional Composting Articles

Reference: Organic Gardening (2007). Make Compost in 14 Days. Rodale Inc

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