When is compost ready

Or, to put it another way, how long is a piece of string? All the dead plant material in your garden would rot down and eventually disappear of its own accord, without your assistance, if you just left it alone. The same would happen to green kitchen waste if you just threw it out of the back door onto the nearest flower bed. In practice, this means that compost is ready when you think it is.

The high-fibre heap, based on paper, card, and soft, green waste only, will produce a fine compost relatively quickly, in which none of the original ingredients will be recognizable. A heap that started out with a lot of woody material will look twiggy for a lot longer.

From a garden-worthy perspective, the difference is immaterial: both textures of compost will do exactly the same job in the garden, equally effectively. The only reason to prefer fine material - apart from its appearance - is if you plan to make your own potting compost, for which coarse material is unsuitable.

Don't be misled into unrealistic expectations of your compost heap. The compost shown tumbling invitingly out of the bins in

Judging when your compost is finished is partly a question of aesthetics.

gardening programmes and magazines has been carefully sieved to remove all the annoying, twiggy bits. Either that, or it came out of a sack of commercially produced soil conditioner.

In trials run in the UK by the Royal Horticultural Society, a mixture of green and shredded, woody garden waste was composted for 12 months. About 80 per cent of the resulting compost could be described as "fine" particles, that is, it would pass through a 10mm (%in) sieve. That's good enough for me, and

unless you want your flower beds to look like a Chelsea Flower Show garden, it should be good enough for you too.

Incidentally, the lack of any agreed method of deciding when it is finished is a major obstacle to the scientific investigation of compost. Science can study only things that can be measured fairly objectively.

Most plants love garden compost whatever its texture, but you might have to sieve compost for use in potting mixtures.

Most plants love garden compost whatever its texture, but you might have to sieve compost for use in potting mixtures.

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Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

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