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You’ve collected food scraps, newspaper, cardboard and yard trimmings; you’ve turned your compost pile and monitored its moisture and oxygen levels. Now, after weeks – or even months of careful maintenance – you finally have finished compost. But what comes next?
Composting at home helps you put more sustainable habits into practice, and it can significantly reduce the amount of waste you’re contributing to local landfills. But there’s another benefit: your finished compost can be highly nutritious for your yard, garden and potted plants. Whether you’ve generated a little compost or a huge pile, there are a number of ways you can put the material right back into the environment.
Prep your compost before use
There’s just one step you’ll need to take before you actually start taking finished compost out of your pile and putting it to use. You’ll want to make sure your compost is ready for use – and perfectly prepared for use with soil, potting mix and plants.
First, you’ll want to check the temperature of your compost pile. When your raw materials are ready for use, they become cooler. Compost is warm to the touch when it’s still undergoing the decomposition process. However, when it’s finished, it’ll have very little heat. You can pick up a handful of the material to test whether it’s still warm or not. Don’t want to dig into your compost? You can do this while wearing gloves.
When you have some compost in hand, you’ll also want to check its texture. Finished compost is crumbly and dark in color. It should feel and smell like healthy soil, with an earthy – but not unpleasant – scent. If your compost material is too wet or isn’t quite the right texture of soil, it needs more time.
Lastly, you’ll need to screen your compost. Even when microbes have done all of their hard work to break down green and brown materials, large pieces can get left behind. And, if you’re going to continue adding to your compost pile or bin, you’ll want to make sure no fresh material accidentally winds up in your finished compost. To screen your compost material, you can use a sifter.
After these steps, you’re ready to start spreading your compost wherever you need it. Here are five ways to use homemade compost.
1. Mix compost into your garden’s soil
One of the best ways to use up finished compost is mixing it into your garden’s soil. Compost alone doesn’t make for very nutritious growing ground, but blending it into any type of soil can work wonders for plants of all kinds.
There are two ways you can do this. You can dig up your existing plants and till your entire garden, adding compost along the way. Or, you can add a layer of compost on top of your garden’s soil. Both methods work equally well, though adding compost in one layer requires less work. Better Homes and Gardens recommends creating a three-inch thick layer of compost to really reinvigorate your garden.
Additionally, if you’ve been struggling to see results in your vegetable garden, adding compost will help spur your veggies on. For most vegetables, you only need a few inches spread over the topmost layer of soil and around the base of your plants. You can add more compost during vegetable varieties’ growing seasons in the spring and fall, then adjust as needed if your plants look like they need more.
Compost is particularly great for heavy feeders, or vegetables that require a lot of nitrogen and other kinds of nutrients in order to thrive. Corn and squash, for example, are two veggie varieties that need extra-fertile soil. You can add about half an inch of compost to the soil around these heavy feeders every month; it should give them enough nutrients to grow consistently.
Once you’ve added finished compost to your garden, the nutrients in that material will enrich your pants. Compost also hangs onto water like a sponge, keeping plants hydrated and well-fed right at the roots. No matter what kind of soil you’re working with – sandy, clay or other varieties – you’ll feed your plants nutrients they can really grow with.
2. Make a batch of compost tea
Don’t worry, compost tea isn’t something you drink. Finished compost isn’t exactly the kind of organic material any person wants to sip on. For plants, however, this unique brew can be quite beneficial.
Compost tea takes your finished compost and extracts the beneficial microorganisms hiding under its surface. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, compost tea includes microbes like bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro-arthropods, all of which are pulled out during the “brewing” process. The tea also contains soluble nutrients that help improve the health of your garden’s soil. Pouring it into your planters can improve the soil’s water retention, its structure and its aeration.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Spraying compost tea onto plants can help their foliage, preventing potential diseases and stimulating root growth. You can think of it like a stronger, more natural kind of fertilizer.
There are a number of different ways to make compost tea, but the general idea is to place your finished compost inside a compost brewing bag. That bag, plus a few other ingredients, then sits in a bucket of water for a few days. You can then pull out the brewing bag and use the water that’s left behind as your plant-ready tea.
3. Create a barrier to stop erosion
Have a large area in your yard that’s experiencing erosion? Compost could be exactly what you need to keep your soil and everything else nearby in place.
The US Composting Council recommends using compost to create a barrier that keeps slipping soil under control because it can hang onto water, preventing it from flooding soil and dragging it away. Compost can stop water from flowing freely and help control stormwater that comes with heavy rain.
There are a few different ways to apply finished compost so it prevents erosion. You can create a compost blanket by adding a layer of loose compost over erosion-prone soil. It’ll work similar to mulch or netting, holding everything together in place. Or, you can create a compost sock by filling a mesh tube with finished compost. That tube then sits along loose soil like a barrier. A compost berm is another option, and it’s a dike-like structure that contains soil and sediment.
These compost uses are larger in scale, but they offer eco-friendly solutions for bigger yards or acres of outdoor space.
4. Replace soil for potted plants
You can also use finished compost to nourish potted plants of all kinds. Whether you keep potted plants in your yard or inside your home, adding compost into the soil’s mix can offer all of the same benefits as you’d get in a garden.
As potted plants’ soil becomes depleted, replace it with some finished compost material. Potting soil can be a bit lacking in nutrients, and it becomes even less effective as its level decreases inside a pot. So, replenish both the soil and your plants’ nutrients by adding an inch or two of compost.
You can also create your own compost-rich soil blend by mixing potting soil with finished compost. It’s up to you how frequently you’d like to add compost to your potted plants. Once or twice a year is good, but struggling plants may benefit from more.
Worried about welcoming pests into your home if you use compost for indoor potted plants? Once the organic material you’ve added into your compost pile turns into finished compost, bugs shouldn’t stick around. However, if you keep your material inside a sealed container, you can lock pests out completely (and feel better about bringing it inside).
5. Donate your compost locally
If you’ve generated more finished compost than you can use at home, it doesn’t have to go to waste. You can donate it to local compost pickup services, which will take your compost off your hands and put it to good use.
Compost pickup services are growing increasingly popular. Some, like LA Compost in Los Angeles and Black Earth Composting in Massachusetts, will come pick up your extra compost just like your weekly municipal trash pickup service. These services may offer pickup for a fee, or they may be non-profit organizations that do so for free thanks to volunteers.
You can also find donation centers where you can bring your compost. In some cities and counties, local farmers markets, community gardens and co-ops will accept compost donations. You can even reach out to local farms to see if they accept compost donations. As composting becomes increasingly popular, more options are likely to become available.
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