When is Compost Ready?


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If you make compost fertilizer, you must know when the compost is finished. Compost is ready when it no longer looks and feels like rotting food waste. You know it is ready when it is dark, rich earth. Read this post to learn more about the maturity of compost.

There are home tests that help you know when compost is finished. These tests can help you whether you are a back-yard composter or you have a large-scale operation. When it comes to assessing compost maturity, there are many criteria. In this post, we will discuss those criteria.

Why compost should be mature

In some cases, immature compost can be dangerous. It may contain acids and pathogens that are damaging to plants. Apart from that, immature compost requires oxygen and nitrogen, because it continues to decay. If it happens, plants do not get these elements. That is why compost must be thoroughly mature.

Hot piles

It is very easy to know when a hot pile is done. When is compost ready? If it is a hot pile, it is finished when it does not heap any longer. You may need to wait a few weeks until it is cured. Leave the pile for some extra time so that microbes can grow in it.

Larger organisms such as earthworms can not come back to the compost because they do not tolerate high heat. These organisms benefit both the compost and the soil where you use the compost.

Cold piles   

When it comes to cold piles, there is very little difference between finished and unfinished compost. You need experience and a bit of artistry to know when it is done. Most cold piles can be used after a year.

If you use shredded materials and the compost is completely finished, you will find it hard to recognize the original ingredients. The process may take years if the ingredients are not shredded. So when is compost ready? It is ready when you no longer recognize the original ingredients.

This is because peanut shells, egg shells, avocado pits and wood chips take time to degrade. Tea bags, bits and bread and apple cores decompose faster.

You have to consider the look, feel and smell of the compost to know whether it is finished. In mature compost, slimy things or kitchen vegetables are not recognizable. It also does not contain any garden refuse. But it may contain occasional autumn leaves or woody stems.

There are some other ways to know when the process of composting is complete. Later in this post we will discuss a few signs that will let you know when the compost is not ready. We hope you will find that discussion helpful.

Choosing a compost bin

To compost food waste and other types of food products, you need a good compost bin. If you are willing to spend some time, you can make the bin. Do some research to know the exact procedure of making a compost bin.

Buying a ready made compost bin is a good option if you aren’t much of a do-it-your-selfer. If you are looking for a fun home gardening project, though, don’t miss our guide on how to make your own compost bin.


So, is there anything you can do with wood-chips, egg-shells and so on? These woody items are recalcitrant. They are also known as “overs”, “compost-overs” or “wood-overs”. These pieces are over-sized, and they do not fit in the compost bin.

The compost can be used even if there are leftovers in it. Pick the corn cobs and avocado pieces out by hand. Put these big bits to your next compost pile. Use them in the next round. If the ovaries are removed and returned to the pile, they will decompose in the next round because they contain microorganisms that accelerate the process. 

But you can ignore them if you wish. You do not need them if you do not have another pile of fresh compost. Feel free to use the compost even if it contains occasional recognizable egg shells or peanuts.  These things will take time to decay, but they will certainly decay.

But it is better to pick the biggest corn cobs and avocado pits. You need to set up a screen if there are too many peanut shells in the compost bin. If screening is not possible, do not worry. Peanut shells and avocado pits will also compost, but they will take a couple of seasons.

When is compost ready? It is ready once you have completed screening. Screening compost is not a very quick process, but if you do the screening, you will get some uniform and light soil.

You can purchase a compost screen or make one. To make one, what you need is a square of wire netting and a few boards. When making a compost screen, make sure that the height is comfortable for you.

When your compost is not ready

The discussion will be incomplete if we do not discuss when your compost is not ready. The following signs tell that your compost is not ready, and you can not yet use it.

The pile is slow to break down

First of all, if you notice that the material is slow to break down and the pile is moist, you know that the compost is not ready yet. Why does it happen? It happens because there are not enough microorganisms to break down the material.

It smells very bad

If your compost is too wet, it will smell bad. Too much water, lack of aeration, or an imbalance of nitrogen to carbon can cause this condition. If there is no aeration, the material becomes rancid and stagnant. And as a result it smells bad.

You can immediately address this issue by adding some chimney ash or deciduous sawdust to the pile.

Brown leaves not breaking down

When it comes to the process of decomposition, it is important to keep the balance between green items and brown items. Brown items produce carbon and green items produce nitrogen. As a rule of thumb, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen should be 30:1.

Sawdust, pine needles, straw, dry grasses, and leaves are brown items. Manures, kitchen waste and grass clippings are green items. If the ratio of brown to green items is not maintained, they will still decompose but take some more time.

Compost catches fire!

If you use too many green items in your compost, there will be an excessive amount of nitrogen, which will heat up the compost and in some cases it may lead to fire hazards. Although compost fires are not common, you have to be careful when you are working on an industrial-sized pile.

No worms or bugs in the compost

When is compost ready? It is ready when you notice a plethora of mycelium, mites and worms in it. Note that these microorganisms will not be visible in your compost if it is new. They take some time to move in.

The compost is not ready yet if there are no bugs and worms in it. Adequate moisture is necessary for these microorganisms to grow in the compost.

If your compost is not ready, allow it to be “cured” for some time. Do not hurry. Take your time to finish the process of composting.

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Last update on 2024-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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