Finished compost looks like.....?



Finished compost looks like.....?

Mon Jan 26, 2009 9:11 pm

Should my compost look like potting soil when it's ready or more like dirt and bits of crunched up leaves? Can anyone post a picture of their finished compost?


Thanks! Anna
Thanks! Anna
annafaie
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Mon Jan 26, 2009 10:29 pm

I really appreciate your question. It got me to thinking, and sometimes that is a good thing.

First of all, I was thinking, what does a person mean by [when it is ready]? Does that mean ripe, fully broken down, or simply ready to use. Then the thinking continued about organic matter in soil, humus, and the equillibrium between humus loss and humus build up. I would assume that the addition of compost serves many purposes, but the build up of humus must be high on the list.

For me, compost is ready, when I'm ready to use it. What is composting after all? To me, it is the collecting of organic matter, placing it together, and managing it until the material breaks down until nutrients become more readily available. The main problem with adding compost before it [is ready] would IMO be the loss of nitrogen as breakdown continues in the soil. But isn't that what happens anyway, no matter what level of decomposition the compost is in when placed into the garden? The organic matter continues to break down until eventally it is no longer there, and what organic matter is there at that point came from the continuous inflow of orgain matter to the humus cycle.

While thinking about your question I did a little on line research and stumbled across what appears to be a great resource. I think that it is an e-book so won't post the link here. But the book is called Organic Gardener's Composting by Steve Solomon. The author has what may be some radical ideas, not sure, as didn't investigate, and they are not the focus of this particular book. But his chapter on maintaining soil humus and nutrients is very informative. He also gives an interesting recipe for adding organic fertilizer that is made from 4 parts any kind of seed meal, one part bone meal, one part lime, and 1/2 part kelp meal. Claims that it will do wonders for most soil when applied at a rate of 1 gallon per 100 sq. feet, plus a couple of handfulls under transplants or under hills. This non copyrighted book can also be viewed at a site called soilandheath.org or you can just google the title and author. It tells how to make really good compost, but goes further with how to enrich the soil using organic methods. I'm going back and read the chapter more slowly and will skim the whole book as it appears to be very informative.

Anyway after all of this rambling, here is what my compost looks like after being started last winter. I don't turn the pile much and so the piles do not generate a lot of heat and the breakdown is slow compared to a hot compost pile. Also, I am no kind of compost purist, but do keep a steady supply of organics going to the compost pile and then moving toward the various beds and plants.

Leaf fragments are constantly getting scattered among the ripe compost.


Image

A bigger pile, and once again, the leaf fragments are a bit misleading. They are perhaps only 5-10% of the volume of this mostly very dark crumbly stuff that has texture about 3X coarser than premium potting soil.


Image
Eclectic gardening style, drawing from 40 years of interest and experience. Mostly plant in raised beds and containers primarily using intensive gardening techniques.
Alex
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hendi_alex
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Tue Jan 27, 2009 2:43 pm

Thanks so much for the description, info and pictures! That helps me greatly.
Thanks! Anna
annafaie
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Tue Jan 27, 2009 2:47 pm

Ditto,
I'm a visual learner. Seeing is believing.
2cents
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Tue Jan 27, 2009 3:27 pm

Anna,

Here is a picture of some of my finished compost with a quarter dollar for comparison purposes. This has been sifted through a mesh screen of approximately 1/2 inch to remove the larger chunks which have been incorporated into the next batch. The texture is smaller than 1/2 inch as the screening process not only removes the unfinished material but helps to reduce the stuff that is ready. I don't screen all of my compost but I do screen and store some, mostly for starting seeds and occasionally other potting purposes. I never purchase ready made potting soil.
Image

Norm
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Tue Jan 27, 2009 4:45 pm

gnome,
This is good looking stuff.
Just like the pros make in the bags.

why do you sift/screen?

Dad used to do it that way, but I've not found it necessary.

Do you find it helps for starting seeds?
Is it just for the seed starting reason or because it looks cleaner in the garden, or what all does it help with?
2cents
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Tue Jan 27, 2009 5:16 pm

2cents,

gnome,
This is good looking stuff.
Just like the pros make in the bags.
Thanks. :D

why do you sift/screen? ... Do you find it helps for starting seeds?
Is it just for the seed starting reason or because it looks cleaner in the garden, or what all does it help with?
If it is going to go into the garden I don't bother. For starting seeds I prefer a more uniform texture without big pieces. I sometimes use this as a component of potting mixes as well and again don't want large chunks in my, often, small pots. As I said, I don't buy potting mix, this serves as part of mine.

Norm
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Gnome
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Tue Jan 27, 2009 10:26 pm

Gnome, if you don't mind my asking, what is your recipe for seed starting mix? 8)
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applestar
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Wed Jan 28, 2009 2:45 am

applestar,

I don't really have a set recipe for seedlings, or anything else for that matter. A simple mix might be 50/50 sifted compost and Perlite. If you have visited the bonsai forum you may know that bonsai is my main focus and I blend my own medium from various ingredients.

During this process I sift the individual components into different sizes. The smaller particles are too fine for most of my trees but I hate to throw them out so I have been using the 'fines' for seedlings and cuttings, it seems to work well. So this material often ends up as a portion of my seed mix as well. It all depends upon what I happen to have on hand at the time.

More important than the actual components is their function. I insist on good drainage even for seedlings. Although such is definitely slower than my general mix, it still drains better than the peat based stuff sold at nurseries.

Norm
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Gnome
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too lazy to sift for the most part

Wed Jan 28, 2009 6:48 am

..
I try to do what the gnome does, sift some and store it. Mix it with some dirt for seeds. I too am using what's on hand.

Most of my stuff is spilled in beds and on the lawn or mixed with dirt for planting experiments unsifted. Not too many leaves are left but bits of avocado skins, their pits and sticks laced through out though.

I like to use some still rough and lumpy stuff along the roof line so during the 3 months of rain the runoff doesn't erode the beds under the eaves.

The ceremonial peach pit just goes from bin to bin.
..
rot
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Wed Jan 28, 2009 4:01 pm

Rot,

How long has that peach pit been hanging on?
Are there other OM that just won't break down?

Perhaps a thread here for OM that lasts over 12 months, just a thought.
2cents
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Wed Jan 28, 2009 5:09 pm

"Slow-to-Decompose Ingredients."

http://www.helpfulgardener.com/forum/v ... php?t=9918

and peach pits are *definitely* slow; mine still show no signs of degradation, even after ≥2-1/2 years in the pile.

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