When is Compost Finished? Become an Expert with these Advices

Antonella Flores 2021-06-16 7 min

When is Compost Finished? Read your compost with these advices and become an expert. Composting is the future. The friendly and simple way to reduce our food waste. A new habit around our daily routines that will make a huge difference for everyone reducing our environmental footprint. Meanwhile, at the present, we are learning how to fit this practice in our homes.

Check our article about it: Here is the complete Guide on how to Composting at Home

So, here we stand up to solve a popular enigma: When is compost ready?

We wonder when we have to drop the food scraps at the pile to: when is compost finished?. Here you will learn how a ready-to-use compost looks like.

photo-1598132393587-ed3223115206
Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

How Finished Compost Looks Like?

Compost and time are such a famous couple. Life goes fast, and we may feel lost when we start composting. If you´ve decided to dive into this world, time must not be a stressful item. With an appropriate overview of the process, and patience, soon you´ll be enjoying a new greenstyle life.

When compost is ready you can travel with only smell. You take (better if using a glove) a handful and sniff: you will be traveling to a woody place, within the very smell of the earth. One of the understandable fears of jumpstarting with a composting process is the smell but it's not a condition of having a compost. When is compost finished, the smell will tell. Which is priceless and will make you feel proud and it is worth it.

How to Discover When Is Compost Finished?

When there's a doubt, then, there´s no doubt. Or in another way, if you suspect that compost is not ready, then probably is not. When it's done you can remove the soil and it will look like it never had food breaking down there.That is a great parameter of compost maturity.

In compost, you must trust yourself you're doing it right. The way to find out when the compost is ready is to trust in your senses. Here we'll drive you for the main signs you must be aware of, to have successful composting.

  • Sight

How finished compost looks like? It looks like dark soil with little lumps. When is compost finished, you won't recognize the chunks of food and the brown material. But, maybe down the first layer there's still something happening. This takes us to the next step.

  • Touch

As we said, you can take a handful and it must feel a little bit soggy and moist, but not heat. The texture and temperature are truly indicators about what phase compost is in. If it releases a bit of steam, it means it is still working. Steaming is normal, and happens due to the difference between ambient air and the pile´s (or bin) temperature.

dirty hands
Photo by Chris Yang on Unsplash
  • Smell

At this time, the odor would have already run at your nose, for better or for worse. Earthy or smelly, you are going to have a clue.

If it smells acidic, sour or rotten it's a sign that the compost needs to be balanced with brown material to reduce its moist percentage. Is this your case? You can go straight to our troubleshooting guide to solve it and continue your trip: Composting Problems: Types and How to Deal with Them

In the best scenario, when is compost finished it will smell earthy, woody. Some people say it smells like the ground when it has just rained.

  • Taste

Well, here is where senses finish their part in this play. It's not necessary to taste or hear compost. Don't run away.

Sum up

Be aware of the smell, the temperature, texture, the color and… that's it. Also, another way you can tell your compost is done is because it's half the size as it started.

If you can, even if the compost is ready, let it rest a few more weeks. This phase is called Curing and it works as an insurance.

When is my Compost Ready to Use?

Although the compost is finished anywhere between two or six months, the variables are many: the size of your composting bin, the amount of organic waste you put in, the frequency of aeration, if you got worms, etc. Every compost has its own rate, so if you were looking for a stiffy answer as a law, there isn't'. There is something better though.

Compost maturity is a highlighting item. Not only because of the smell or the pieces of food it can remain, otherwise because if you want to use your compost for gardening it will be necessary. When the compost is still working there are some microbes or microorganisms that will make it squiggly for your plants and may decay them. Don't worry, if you read this article profoundly you won't have risks. Here is where Curing brings calm. Microorganisms are the main responsible of the magic that happens in your compost, as Cornell has enlightened us.

hands full of soil
Gabriel Jimenez, from Unsplash

How finished compost looks like will teach us a lot. When we are beginners at this practice, we could get anxious and scared about it all screwing up. We are not sure about doing it right or if tomorrow we are going to find a mess. But don't worry, because once you are in the arena, you notice that it's a simple process, natural, and really positive.

Understanding which are the stages of decomposition treatment will help you to become a compost expert. All you have to know for sure is that every compost has 4 stages: mesophilic, thermophilic, finishing, and curing. It sounds complicated but is just the time it takes temperature to increase and break down all compounds. Thermophilic phase comes to be the climax of this process where microbes are crazy in their almost alchemist mission.

Basically, it takes 4 phases to let microbes turn scraps of food in rich soil. We must be patient and take just a little advice to take care of it and we´ll harvest, at the right time, a great and smoothy dark gold.

Ok, so now we can return to our question:

When is compost finished? As you could see, we can't give you more than signs that will help you to acknowledge in which stage your compost is. This is not but a special process determined by how you build the pile, and the size of it.

It's not a mathematical thing. But it could take between two and six months, considering we are talking about a hot composting method.

seed sprout on compost
Roman Synkevych, from Unsplash

Bonus Tip!

  • For accelerating the process you can hire some Californian worms. They will be pleased to help you to transform the organic waste into soil. Once they are part of your team, you must control that temperature won't rise up too much to avoid them struggling.
  • Mix the rest of the food with the hand blender or liquidizer. Do not add so much water in it. Sometimes with food´s natural water is enough.
  • Search the soil tester office in your county. They are professionals ready to help you and provide you information about gardening.

Harvest Time: Compost is Ready

When is compost finished it is harvest time. So long we´ve been waiting, and now can play burying our hands in the soil. You can put it in a bag and save it or use it to nourish your garden. Mature compost is to plants what spinach is to Popeye.

The greatest thing about composting is that you become part of a cycle, or even better, you guarantee the continuity of that cycle.

The harvest time is a great moment, you will feel proud of your consistency, and learn that life does its thing without a lot of our intervention. Composting at first may seem complicated and uncomfortable but then when you make it a habit it becomes part of cooking and eating. You will be there to enjoy nature´s magic times.

At last, but not least

Surely you´ll be harvesting a bunch of compost. At the time you bury your hand into it, you can remember all the food it was there and how it magically disappeared. Well, it costs a bit of science and another bit of you for that to happen.

Remember! It is very important to search for the perfect composting system considering your home space, and how many people you live with. Because that will determine the amount of food scraps you´ll be throwing inside the compost bin.

Learn here: How to make a Compost Pile? All you need to know about it

Before you throw it all in the black hole of microbes, you can put the rest of food in a pre-compost little bowl, it must have a lid to avoid fruit flies and when you have enough, depending on the amount of food or days long, you can take it to the “time machine”.

Composting is being responsible for our consumption. It brings us the consciousness of nature's times and also helps to reduce waste. Of course, the first way of reducing it is by considering what we consume, why and if it's healthy for us. A whole world opens, with the right questions.

Happy composting and joyful harvest!

Antonella Flores

A 5 ft 2 inch earthling who live writing. Spanish Proofreader. SEO Content Writer.

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