The Q&A Archives: Composting

Question: I'm a real beginner at gardening. I've started a compost pile beginning June 1st - looks good. How long must I wait before adding the compost soil to my garden beds? And how do you recommend I add it? i.e. just churn it in with existing soil using a hoe? My existing soil has alot of clay. I also noticed when watering, the water puddles on the top -doesn't seem to sink into the ground. Any advice will be much appreciated.

Answer: Depending upon technique, composting can take from several months to a year or more. Compost is 'done' when it no longer resembles the original material you put into the pile. If you 'work' your compost; add both nitrogen rich and carbon rich material and turn it often to keep it cooking, the raw material will decompose rather rapidly. If, on the other hand, you just pile up the material and allow it to decompose by itself, it can take many months, even years to break down. Take a handful of compost and examine it. If it's brown and crumbly in texture, and there are no recognizable plant parts, it's probably ready to use. You can spread a 4 inch layer of compost over the top of the garden bed and dig it in to a depth of 8-10 inches. This will help loosen your clay soil and improve the drainage. Plan to incorporate about an inch of organic matter a year to your garden to further improve the soil. (It takes a long time to build good garden soil!)

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