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how to compost manual

When It's Done and How To Use It

The length of time required for decomposition is extremely variable from compost to compost.  It depends on many factors, including; volume, C / N ratio, particle size, frequency of turning, moisture content, ambient air temperatures, and probably other factors I'm not aware of.  After 15– 20 days, or so, the temperature will come down; and in about four weeks (give or take a week), the compost will be cool.  Gradually, the material in the pile will turn a dark brown, have a rich humus look and feel, and smell "earthy", like a forest floor.  Assuming that it is still moist, and did not lose its temperature because it dried out, the compost will be ready to use.


Do not expect all the contents of the pile to be equally decomposed.  There will always be a discernible leaf or stalk or whatever, but these will be mere shadows of their former selves.  Some materials contain lignins and other hard to break down substances, but this will not matter, as they will continue to be decomposed out in the garden (slowly enough so as not to rob nitrogen).  If the pile is left to completely decompose in the bins, many valuable nutrients will be lost as vaporized gases or by leaching down through the pile into the soil.  The organisms in the soil need a certain amount of raw material to feed on.

Using the Finished Compost

You can use compost to grow plants in many ways.  If the compost structure is suitable, it can be used by itself, without soil, as a complete growing medium.  At least 50% of the compost must pass through a 1/4" screen of hardware cloth, to use it in this manner  (I regularly screen my compost with 1/2" hardware cloth, putting what doesn't go through into the next pile).  Spread the finished compost around shrubs and trees.  Use it as a soil conditioner; adding it to clay soils opens the soil up to better aeration; adding it to sandy soils binds the loose grains into larger structures that hold moisture much better.  Incorporate it into the top few inches of the soil as a top dressing  (where there is sufficient oxygen to continue decomposition).  Use it as a mulch, one that won't take nitrogen from the soil.  When used as a mulch, many highly desirable organisms will feed on it, carrying it down into the soil for you.  Use it as a tonic for ailing plants; not much is known on the subject, but some believe that compost contains an antibiotic for plants ... it surely will help them.

Use it as a potting mixture.  A general mix of; 1 part builders sand, 2 parts sifted compost, and 1–2 parts soil works well, (and makes a good seed covering also).  If you plan to use compost on indoor plants, it is wise to take some extra precautions in order to not introduce any undesirable elements to your houseplants.  This means that compost for indoor use should be pasteurized. This is a simple process, but a smelly one.  The easiest way I know to achieve the heat necessary for pasteurization, is to cook the compost OUTSIDE on a bar-b-q grille.  Use a meat thermometer, and cook the mix for 30 minutes at 180 degrees F.


One final use of compost is to use it as a foliar feeder.  Foliar feeding is simply feeding plants through their leaves instead of their roots.  Many plants can benefit from foliar feeding, especially transplants, which may lack feeder roots.  To make a liquid foliar feeder from compost, simply make "Compost Tea".  To make "Compost Tea"; put 4"-6" of a well-made finished compost into a bucket; fill with water and let stand for 2–3 hours, stirring occasionally; strain through some burlap and sprinkle on the plants (or strain again through muslin, and use a sprayer).  Use immediately for best results.

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