By making my own compost, I know I am adding only pesticide and herbicide free material to my pile. I am also recycling what would be considered a waste product with associated costs,. Most importantly I’m generating a resource valuable to my garden and other living organisms, and I’m protecting wildlife which may be present on any plant material I cut back.
I don’t chop the plant material I put into my compost into tiny pieces in case there are insects present on stems or leaves. Sometimes I put in whole stems or 6-8″ inch pieces, examining the plant stems for any hitch hiking insects as I am cutting. I am constantly adding organic material throughout the year to my 2 compost bins and 1 ground pile. Extra leaves, small branches, chemical free lawn clippings, and other plant material.
I don’t turn my compost to speed up composition. Too much work, but you can if you want to speed up decomposition. Instead, I sift out the finished compost from the bottom of my piles and bins. During the harvesting process, I’ve found some amazing insects such as bumblebees and glowing firefly larvae living in my compost, so this may be another reason not to turn the compost pile. Here is how I harvest the compost from my bins and piles once a year, usually in spring.
1. I place a tarp next to one of my compost bins or compost pile . I shovel most of the unfinished top portion of the compost pile onto my tarp.
2. From the bottom of the pile, I put one shovelful into a compost sieve or sifter (a circular strainer with sides and a mesh bottom) , which is held over a small container. This include finished and unfinished compost. I shake the sieve for a minute or so like I’m harvesting for gold. The finished finer compost enters the container and the larger, unfinished compost remains in the sieve. Sometimes I don’t need a sieve since the compost at the bottom may not contain larger chunks.
3. I toss the unfinished compost from the sieve onto the tarp and repeat this process until I reach the bottom of the compost bin or pile. Most of the finished compost is near the bottom. When I’m done, I have 3 or 4 container fulls of finished compost. With my husband’s help, we pick up the tarp of unfinished compost, and throw that back into the bin or pile for next year.
In spring I used the finished compost in my small vegetable garden and also add it to any potting soil for my annuals or herbs. I also sprinkle finished compost on my lawn or any lawn areas that need re-seeding because I usually have way more compost than I need.
BTW: Native plants do not need compost added to the beds unless the soil is horribly compacted and needing better drainage or aeration. Native prairie plant roots make their own organic matter along with the soil over time deeper, plus the organic matter is always replenished as pieces of root systems die off each year and new ones grow. For clay soils, I prefer to select native plants that do well in clay soils rather than tilling in organic matter. Tilling sometimes brings up many weed seeds, alters soil microorganisms, and is a lot much work. Please share with us your easy harvesting tips for compost or if you found this helpful by entering a comment below. Thank you.
Great advice Denise, love the photos ; )
I did not know that natives don’t need compost, good to know! thanks!
Hi Leslie. Thanks for your comment. I recommend the article in the March/April 2011 Wild Ones Journal “Good soil ? Bad soil? What you need to know about soil to grow native plants.”. for more information.