Composting 106: Harvesting

Harvested compost
Photo by Kent Phillips

Susan Levi-Goerlich, a University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener and a member of the Howard County Master Gardener Compost Education Committee, answers questions about harvesting compost.

When is compost ready to harvest?

Susan: Compost is done when you can no longer recognize the materials that went into the bin. The finished compost will be about 1/4 the volume of the original materials.

Why is my pile so much smaller than when it started?

Susan: Decomposition of the materials causes the pile to shrink.

How do I harvest my compost?

Kent’s sifter made from hardware cloth & 2×4’s.
Sifted compost falls into his wheelbarrow.
Photo by Kent Phillips

Susan: Remove the compost from your bin with your composting fork. If you are using a plastic cylinder as your bin, you may be able to lift the cylinder and have an easily accessible pile of finished compost. If there are any materials that haven’t broken down, put them aside to add to your next compost pile. Some people like to screen their compost to get a more uniform and finer product. Others choose to use it as it is. It’s really a matter of choice.

How do I use my “black gold”?

Susan: You can use it as a mulch in your flower and vegetable gardens. You plants will love it. You can dig it into your garden as a soil amendment to enrich your garden soil. You can use it as a top or side dressing for plants, replacing manufactured fertilizer. You can soak it in water to make compost “tea” to use as a mild fertilizer for ornamental plants. If you screen your compost, you can also apply it to your lawn with a spreader.

Does compost make a difference in how things grow?

Susan: Yes! It provides nutrients, helps the soil retain moisture and may provide some protection against plant diseases. I believe plants are more healthy when they grow in soil where compost has been added.

Note: This is the end of the six-part Composting series.
Additional Information: To link to the University of Maryland Extension’s brochure, “Backyard Composting,” CLICK HERE.

To link to the 2-page Howard County Master Gardener fact sheet on composting, CLICK HERE.

To link to the schedule and locations of composting demonstrations by Howard County Master Gardeners, CLICK HERE.

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