Compost-Along: Week 8

by Daisy

When I first started my compost for this compost-along, things got real smelly real fast.  I put so many activators in there my husband remarked it smelled like the circus was in town, IN our yard.  He was right.  It was rank.  I’ve never had a stinky compost pile before, but I’ve also never had a compost pile which heated up so much, decomposed so quickly, and finished so beautifully before, either.  I’d never kept things as moist as they needed to be, never turned it so regularly, and never beefed it up with so much rich stuff.

The truly stinky ingredient was the stale dog food I used.  If I had really close neighbors I would never add the dog food again.  In fact, I don’t think I will ever add dog food to compost again anyway.  Boy, did it heat up, though.  Along with some horse manure, it created that “circus” effect my husband referred to.

BUT, it only lasted for about a week, and it was only particularly pungent right after it was turned.

Now, it is completely stink-free.  It smells like healthy woodland dirt, earthy and mild.

All of which is leading to my point for today:

How do you know when your compost is “Done”?

  • It’s not stinky, but smells earthy
  • It isn’t heating up anymore
  • It is dark in color, friable, and individual pieces are less distinct, although you can still have some larger pieces

If you want your compost at this point to be very uniform, you can put it through a compost sifter, or if you’re fine with some chunks, you can leave them in and go ahead and use the compost as is.

So, this week, turn your compost again, add water if needed, and evaluate it.  Give it a good sniff, too.  It may be done now, or it may take a few more weeks.  Regardless, it will only get better with a bit more time, as it will give it the opportunity to develop more beneficial fungi and break down the larger pieces.



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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

gmorgan July 18, 2012 at 6:34 am

That looks like spectacular compost! Good job!
Now my bins have been doing their own “cooking”, so much in fact that the one I had SO stuffed to the top with Virginia creeper cuttings and last years ‘not completely done yet’ stuff and grass clippings, went from “the bin is stretching, is that okay?” to “Hey, where’d it all go?!” The pile is less than half its original size. That is without stirring, just adding some water, and letting it rot on its own. Even the ‘fresher’ pile isn’t cooking that well, altho’ I have been adding to it constantly (duh!).
I’ll be opening up that ‘old’ bin soon and spreading the finished product here and there around the garden and new flower bed where my lilies, irises, and other perennials will be taking up residence along with a fall planting of daffodils and narcissus. Then I’ll have it for this falls leaves and winters trimmings. The ‘new’ bin will add to it next spring.
Paying attention to something that usually gets left on the back burner can be rewarding! Great subject for a blog. Thanks!

Melinda Gustafson Gervasi July 30, 2012 at 5:47 am

I am relatively new to composting. One suggestion someone gave me (who is a long time composter) is to add farmer’s lime to the pile. It absorbs orders. It’s worked well for me.

Practical question I have is….I’m always adding new material to the pile. What I put in a year ago has decomposed, but last week’s corn cobs are still there. What is the best way to remove what is finished?

Daisy July 30, 2012 at 6:49 am

MGG–You can build a compost sifter from hardware cloth (wire) or improvise with something that would serve the same purpose. I have one I made using the Lowe’s instructions, Deanna uses an old baby gate!

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