Now You’re Composting, What Next?
If you’ve followed along in our series, by now you’ve got a compost pile that you’re adding to on a daily basis. At this point, you’re probably thinking of how you want to use your compost and when you can start reaping the benefits of what you’ve sown so far. We’ll get into that in a moment, first, let’s review some ongoing care tips for your pile.
As you know already, unless you are using a cold composting method, your compost pile is going to need regular care and maintenance. You need to monitor it for any foul odors, heat generation, and moisture levels. Remember that you will need to rotate or turn the material on a regular basis. You should know when to stop adding materials and let the process finish. And the final step is to use a screen to separate any larger materials that did not fully break down.
If there is a bad smell coming from your compost pile turn the pile over to increase air circulation. You should also add more brown food (leaves, straw/hay, or small twigs) and make sure the top layer of your pile is only brown food. (Review the aeration steps from previous articles.)
If necessary, practice adding water to your pile to make it moist without making to wet. Inevitably you will make the pile too wet at one point during the process. If you do, try rotating the material to soak up any extra water and if that doesn’t work, add more brown food.
If you don’t have a thermometer yet, get one that is made for composting if you can. You want the pile to retain a certain temperature to work properly (105-140 degrees Fahrenheit) but if it exceeds 155 degrees, it is too hot.
Routine turning of your pile is necessary to add oxygen, cut-down on odors and to aid in the breaking-down process. You should turn your pile every other day or at a minimum two times per week.
After the heat phase, the compost pile needs some time to cure and finish the decomposing process. You may add red earthworms at this point to aid in the curing the humus.
Before you use your finished product, you should put the compost through a screen to catch any larger items that did not compost properly or enough (if you did not cut down material before adding it to the pile).
When Will Your Compost be Ready to Use?
Patience is needed when you compost. It can take anywhere from one month to one year for your first batch of humus to be ready to use. It will depend on the size of your bin, if you are using cold or hot composting, what you are putting into the compost and the weather. Another factor to consider is what you will be using the finished product for. Different uses can utilize the compost at different stages of the process.
The longer a compost is allowed to decompose the finer, darker, and richer it becomes. But you do not have to wait until it reaches this state to use it. If you want to use the compost as mulch for your flower beds or other areas of your garden you can use it when it is still in a chunkier state. The mulch is used to keep an even temperature for the soil and discourage weed growth.
If you are going to be using the mature compost to add to your planting pots, the compost should be at the last stages of the process. Things to look for to know that your compost is ready are:
- The amount of material that is in your bin is reduced to approximately half of the original contents.
- When you look at the finished material, you can not tell what it used to be – no parts are recognizable.
- The pile will no longer be as hot (if using the hot composting method)
- The compost is dark in color and looks very much like a rich top soil
In order to have a steady supply of mature compost it is recommended to have a two-bin system going. Once your first container is full, you can continue to compost with the second bin until you can use the material from the first.
Getting the Most Out of Your Compost
You will know the right time to harvest the compost when you no longer recognize the original materials that you used to make the pile. The finished compost should look more soil-like or humus-like. It is dark, loose and smells earthy. When you harvest the compost from your pile, it would be best to spread it out and exposed it to the air. This will further dry the compost and will make is a easier to use.
If you find some bigger chunks still not fully decomposed, throw it back to the next compost pile you’re going to make. One way to get the not fully decomposed material, you can use a screen or wire mesh large enough to let the compost through but small enough to screen the remaining big chunks.
Aside from the soil structure, the macro and micronutrients compost contains provide plants with the needed minerals and nutrients to grow healthy. The soils holds in the nutrients better when compost is added to the soil. Not to mention, compost improves and stabilizes the soil’s acidity levels as well. These are but a few reasons why compost should be used by all gardeners.
After removing those that did not fully decomposed and after curing the finished compost, the next steps would be using what you have been brewing these past few months.
Common Uses for Finished Compost
Now that you have put in the work, waited the required amount of time and have your finished compost material – what are you going to do with it? There are more uses than just laying it down on your flower beds. Some are practical everyday uses and others are more specialized that you may not have thought of.
You can make a tea with your finished compost; it is not for drinking though! To make your compost tea, add your humus to a water-tight container and fill with water. Let the tea “steep” anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days. After it is done, put the liquid compost through a fine screen to collect any debris. What you have made is a liquid fertilizer that can be sprayed on plants or other garden areas.
Compost can be used to help stop the spread of erosion. It can be laid down thickly on the area that is eroding away or it can be mixed with water to make a thick slurry and then sprayed on the area that is in danger.
Humus (finished compost) is used as a final layer over a finished landfill to help new plants grow with little to no erosion. Finished compost can also assist in revitalizing an endangered wetland. The nutrient rich composition can be used to create a new wetland as well.
Of course there are the traditional uses too – in gardens, planting beds, or other areas that plants or vegetation grows. If you are starting a new compost bin, in place of a layer of topsoil for the base you can substitute an equal amount of compost material. Farmers and cities use mature compost on a large scale; it helps the environment and reduces the amount of garbage that ends up in a landfill.
Another usage of compost is as potting mix. Mix the compos with sand and soil and voila! You’ll have a great quality potting mix which you can use for your plants. A mix of 1 part sand, 2 parts compost, and 1 to 2 parts soil seems to be the general agreement for using compost as potting mix.
Of course, the most common usage of compost is as soil amendment. What you do is add the compost to your soil and allow it to draw out the nutrients and other essential minerals for your plants to absorb. You can also spread the compost over the soil before the planting season. You can apply to selected plant surfaces if you have not enough to go around with.
As mentioned, you can also use your compost as mulch. Mulch is a protective layer spread over the soil to help counter the effects of the climate. You might need an ample supply of compost if you use it mulch though. To use it as mulch, you need two to six inches of compost covering the soil surfaces of plants, trees, shrubs, and exposed slopes. As mulch, the compost will help lessen weed growth, prevent erosion, attract earthworms, and help retain water.
Getting the most out of your compost is only natural. You worked hard creating your compost and you should learn to reap the full benefits.
Now that you’re an expert, why not pass on what you’ve learned to others, especially children?
Teach Composting to Kids
Most parents teach their kids the importance of recycling. Composting can be thought of as the ultimate recycling because waste is returned to nature where it can benefit humans again and again. Composting helps the environment and produces healthy crops and chemical-free plants that we can enjoy. Why wouldn’t you want to pass this gift to earth and humans on to the next generation?
Composting education drive is another way to ensure that you are able to pass on the legacy to younger generations. But packaging the teaching method is another aspect that the composting enthusiast must not overlook. There are various ways of teaching composting to adults, but children have different needs and may require more than the expertise of monitoring your heap’s temperature.
Here are different techniques for teaching composting methods to children. It can really be fun and rewarding to pass on the baton to younger kids once you have gotten the hang of composting, and it will really help bring about awareness to their parents and other members of the community. Here are some tips to get through to children.
Nothing beats the boring feeling a kid gets from pure text. Unless the kid is inclined to enjoy pure words, visuals are your best bet into inculcating a love for composting. Make use of pictures, Powerpoint presentations and other technological devices you can use. If you are on an impromptu teaching class, use your words to help the kids visualize the scenario of composting. In any case, encourage the children to imagine the entire process.
Do a complete demo
The demonstration will be able to teach volumes to the children, way more than any discussion can. With a demonstration, you not only show them how it’s done, you also show them that you are well capable of doing what you are teaching them. Seeing the actions in real time will also eliminate the need for them to ask questions should their turn for trying it comes since they will be able to present their questions as you do your demo.
Track for feedback
Kids can get opinionated about things that they like. Strike their fancy even further by getting feedback from them from time to time. Also, ask them and encourage them to ask their questions to you. Removing their inhibitions will help you teach them more concepts than when you are dealing with an uptight bunch,
Entertain all questions and give ample time to answering each question.
Kids can get easily discouraged. So make sure that you are able to reserve judgment and entertain questions, no matter how “stupid” or minor they may seem to you. Remember, you are dealing with children here. If at all possible, have an assistant teacher who is also a kid to help you gain a better perspective of teaching composting to children.
Discuss benefits at the outset so they will know what composting is really for.
If the children are oriented from the outset that what they are doing has great significance, they are more likely to cooperate and do the tasks cheerfully. Ensure that you are fully able to help them understand how composting helps the environment and how it will make a positive difference to a majority of people.
Let them do it, and refuse to interfere if possible.
The main purpose for educating them on composting is to have them equipped with the skills they need to be able to do composting themselves. So, seeing them do the composting, even on a small pit for beginners, may help you see where potential problems may lie. You can also easily praise them and correct them as necessary.
In any case, encourage them for every form of progress made, no matter how small it is, so as to help build their confidence. I can’t think of a better way to cap our composting series off by encouraging you to share this knowledge with children.
I hope you enjoyed our series on composting. For future reference, here is the complete list of all articles from the series: