The Finished Product
Compost ready? Here’s how to put it to use.
Compost is finished when it’s a dark, rich color, crumbles easily and you can’t pick out any of the original ingredients. It should have a sweet, earthy smell. If it’s too stringy or lumpy, it may need more time. If this is the first time you’ve tried making compost, keep in mind that the amount of time can really vary. It can take anywhere from three to 12 months to produce compost. Decomposition depends on a number of things including temperature, what organic matter you’ve filled your bin with, type of compost bin used, how fine the waste material was chopped, how often you’ve turned it, and more (see The Biology of Composting).
Once you have achieved finished compost, you can add it to the soil any time of year without the fear of burning plants or polluting water. The benefits of using compost are numerous. It builds good soil structure; enables soil to retain nutrients, water, and air; protects against drought; helps maintain a neutral pH, and protects plants from many diseases commonly found in the garden. It also feeds earthworms and other microbial life in the soil. In general, it doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have. All soils can be improved with the addition of compost.
One easy way to apply compost is to mulch with it. Spread the compost in a thick layer on top of exposed soil. Worms and other creatures will help the compost meld with the soil. Mulching is not only an easy way to apply compost but also keeps down weeds and helps your soil retain moisture. Don’t have a garden? You can also use compost when potting indoor plants. Use seven parts soil to three parts compost to two parts sand.
How Compost Helps Your Soil
Excerpt from Let it Rot!, by Stu Campbell
What products to compost
You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:
Carbon Rich Material "Browns"
Cardboard (free of dyes)
Stems & twigs
Nitrogen Rich Material "Greens"
Kitchen food waste
Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)
Things to Avoid
Diseased plant material
Manures from carnivorous animals
As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!
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