Know when your compost is ready

As long as you maintain the pile weekly, it should be clear when it’s ready. It’s ready when it is:
  • dark brown or black
  • soft
  • crumbly
  • mostly smooth (you can throw that stubborn corncob back in the pile)
  • earthy-smelling

Patience is the key for compost, because compost matures in its own time, much like wine. Compost works much faster in summer than in winter because of the hotter weather. New heaps made in the fall often mature the following summer. In comparison, midsummer compost made from garden and kitchen waste is finished within a few weeks, because many more microorganisms are active in warm weather. Then things slow down again in the fall.

Compost shrinks as it matures, while the material in the center and lower sections of most heaps rots faster than the outside. When it’s ready to use, compost has a crumbly texture and a rich, earthy smell.


Another way to be sure that you always have ready compost is to maintain several piles so that there is always one that is ready and waiting, one that is in process, and one to which you are adding the latest waste. The timing on these may not be perfectly in synch either, but if you have the space, you may find that having more than one pile is easier that having one big pile.