Compost Curing Maturation and Application Rates

Usually, a compost pile needs one turning to adjust the moisture level and make the mixture more homogeneous for complete breakdown. This should be done at about the 3-week point, after the temperature of the compost pile has peaked and fallen. A decrease in moisture usually occurs at the same time, the color begins to change to brownish from the original green and yellow, and the compost's odor begins to change from musty to an earthy, freshly plowed soil aroma. The compost will normally be ready about 2 months later.

Compost is ready to use when it is dark and rich looking and it crumbles in your hands. The texture should be even, and you should not be able to discern the original source of materials. Mature compost even smells good—like water in a forest spring! A grow biointensive pile should be ready in 3 to 6 months.4

Notes

  • When you turn a compost pile, make the base of the new pile smaller than the original base to give the turned pile more mass.
  • If you are not ready to use your compost when it is fully cured, stop watering it and spread it out to dry. (See Ecology Action's booklet, Biointensive Composting.)

4. If for some reason you need compost cured quickly, there are 3 ways to speed up the decomposition rate in a compost pile—though they will probably leave you with much less cured compost per unit of material added to your pile originally, rather than the greatest quantity of life-enhancing compost you must seek. One way is to increase the amount of nitrogen. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen is critical for the breakdown rate. Materials with a high carbon-nitrogen ratio—such as dry leaves, grain, straw, corn stalks, and small tree branches—take a long time to decompose alone since they lack sufficient nitrogen, which the bacteria depend upon for food. To boost the rate of decay in carbonaceous materials, add nitrogen-rich materials such as newly cut grass, fresh manure, vegetable wastes, green vegetation, or a fertilizer such as alfalfa meal. Twelve to 20 pounds of alfalfa meal per cubic yard of compost will fortify a compost pile with a high carbon content. Lightly sprinkle these fertilizers on each layer as you build your compost pile.

A second method is to increase the amount of air (aeration). Beneficial aerobic bacteria thrive in a well-aerated pile. Proper layering and periodic turning of the pile will accomplish this.

Third, you may increase the surface area of the materials. The smaller the size of the materials, the greater the amount of their exposed surface area. Broken-up twigs will decompose

In the garden a maximum maintenance dressing of 1 inch of compost should be added to the soil before each crop per 4-month growing season. Guidelines for general maintenance dressings are a V4- to 1-inch layer of compost (2 to 8 cubic feet) per 100 square feet,5 if available.

Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

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