The Q&A Archives: Compost Pathogens

Question: I have a great 4x4x4 double composting bin and have been composting for a few months now (using garden debris and vegetative kitchen waste). I have read that one can raise the temperature of the pile enough to kill potentially harmful pathogens in the soil (170-180 degrees). Although my pile heats up from time-to-time, my thermometer tells me that I have not yet reached this temperature. Even if the center of the pile reached this temperature, the extremities probably wouldn't. Is is still ok to use this partially-decomposed compost in my vegetable and flower gardens? (no animal waste products have been used in the pile) Thank you for your help... I visit this site and read the advice in the Q&A regularly.

Answer: Technically, most home piles do not get hot enough as you have noticed. But as long as you are not adding diseased material or weed seeds to the pile, it should be fine to use the resulting compost. Partially decomposed or partially finished compost can be used as a soil amendment or even as a mulch since the material will continue to break down after it is applied. The main intent is to keep adding more organic matter to the soil on a regular basis, with composting being a convenient way to do this.

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