Thursday, April 3, 2008

Compost Question from Buffalo, NY

I began composting in a galvanized garbage can two years ago. I did not put holes in the can to aerate it. Can I still use the compost. Should I throw it away. I live in the city of Buffalo, I don't think that it would be wise to leave open debris in my yard.

If the lid of the garbage can has been off for most of the last two years then your plant cuttings and debris may have gotten enough fresh air to properly decompose. After two years I imagine that anything in the garbage can has broken down enough that it would be fine to use in the garden. However, I would certainly scoop some out and inspect it before applying it to your soil. If you find patches of mold I would get rid of the compost and not use it. A well done compost pile reaches roughly 140 degrees (at least) in its center and naturally breaks down any seeds, foliage, and stem tissue so that all you are left with is a rich dark brown/black compost that should be void of any major clumps or strong fragrance. In an ideal world a compost pile is usually about 5’ x 5’ x 5’, situated in a sunny location, a good mix of both bacterial components (grass clippings and other green debris) and fungal components (broken down stems, leaves, and other woody debris), and gets turned over every six months. But obviously this is very much the ideal model. I have seen tubs and garbage cans used, and as long as there is some potential for aeration and no major water sitting for extended lengths of time the debris can properly break down and be just fine. If your compost smells very strong like ammonia then it has not broken down properly and I would not use it. If you stir it up with a garden fork or shovel and it seems pretty well broken down, with no weedy seedlings present and an earthy fragrance that does not knock you over, then I would assume it is fine to spread around. Either way, when you empty the garbage can see if you can locate a drill with a heavy duty drill bit and make some holes in it so you can use it again in the future with less worry.


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