Finished compost

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Finished compost
Author: TCLynx (Tclynx)
Monday, August 06, 2007 - 11:44 am
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Joe,
The 18" of compost in the bin was after it had been let sit for a year. The bin in question is small, only about 3' on each side and was full up to around 48" -so more than a cubic yard total- high before being put to rest. The house this bin is at is only occupied from April till Nov. I suppose part if it is that it wasn't as long term of a pile as many. I know our big bin at home in FL seems to get filled up but then we turn around and it has cooked down enough that we keep filling it. This smaller one in Michigan is only being heavily added to for sveral months before resting. Not to worry, it gets hot and active. There just isn't much left after a year to use around the gardens. These northern leaves break down to nothing so fast. Anyway, the stuff smells nice, makes great mulch around the trees and perennials so I guess that is the important part.


Rich,
I think I've come to the same conclusion about the compost contents and such. If it got hot, has been allowed to age long enough, and smells nice along with final stage compost critters, then it is done enough for me. Especially if the plants seem to like it.
Perhaps those rules apply more to people who are trying to produce compost in 3 months and are unwilling to have patients.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 2:51 pm
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If you only have 18" of compost in your bin when finished, your bin is too big or you're not using it long enough before finishing. Try using a smaller bin that will fill up faster, or just keep using your bin until it fills up before considering it finished. Then allow a year for aging after that. 18" of organic material is not enough mass for effective composting according to my experience.

Author: Rich (Richard_w)
Sunday, August 05, 2007 - 12:20 am
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Dear TC,

I live in the panhandle of FL and have always found undecomposed leaves in my compost. Sometimes my compost is black as oil and sometimes it is nearly kakhi tan. It just depends on what was in the pile. I never worry about the color too much. I just look for worms and last stage decomposers and smell, of course.

I've read the same thing about not being able to recognize ingredients and had the same question you have. But I finally just tossed the idea in with all the other misinformation I have read about compost piles and decided not to worry. I suppose the lignin content of the leaves just takes longer to break down. The compost is finished. The worms love it. The plants love it. I've been using such compost for years with no problems. With the warmer temps here in the South, compost goes fast. Sometimes I feel at a disadvantage for having to "work harder" to maintain soil fertility - but then I forget about it when I harvest broccoli, peas, lettuce, chard, spinach, collards, asparagus, cauliflower, arugula, mache', carrots, and late season beans when other folks are firing up the snow blower. :-)

Author: TCLynx (Tclynx)
Saturday, August 04, 2007 - 10:04 am
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In much literature about composting it is said that the compost isn't finished until it has reached a state where none of the contents can be recognized as to what they were originally.

I've also seen Joe state that after a year of aging, even the exterior of a pile should have reached a finished state.

I just dug into a pile that has been untouched for a year. Before we put that pile to rest it had been hot for several weeks (between 140 and 160 in the center.) What I found when I emptied the pile, I could still tell lumps of leaf mold and pine needles within the mix. There were also quite a few night crawlers living in the pile. I think I counted 3 dozen big ones and there were many times that in small ones.) It smelled like sweet forest floor so I used it anyway for top dressing around the flower beds and trees. There certainly was not much of it. The bin was made of pallets and full to about 4ft high last summer. After the year of aging, it was only about 18" deep. This bin was located in Michigan where cold winters happen.

I've experienced something similar in Florida compost. A pile of compost that did get good and hot, then put to rest. After the resting time, I still recognize leaf bits and the general color of the compost closely mirrors the sawdust that was used in the buckets instead of being dark brown to black. If I wait until all the contents are unrecognizable, then there is nothing left to use. I did use some of the leafy compost to plant some stuff in a container, it seemed to work well. The most common leaves in central FL are off small leaved oaks and don't decompose quickly.

Has anyone else experienced such? Can anyone tell me any reason I should not just go ahead and use the compost after the year of aging (even if a good portion of the cover material leaves are recognizable)?

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