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When is my compost ready?
Finished compost will be found lurking at the bottom of your bin, all dark and crumbly with a pleasant, earthy smell. You shouldn't be able to identify the original ingredients, but you're bound to find some stubborn pieces that have survived the process - just separate them out and throw them back in for another rotting! You also shouldn't find many worms in it, as they have all moved on to richer pastures higher up the bin. If your compost is particularly wet or lumpy, don't worry too much - leaving it on the surface of the soil for a couple of days to dry out will solve the problem, and will help to break up the lumps into smaller, more workable pieces. If you want a finer product you can always sieve it but the compost is perfectly useable as it is.

Using the finished product!
Home compost is great for improving the structure and fertility of your soil. Digging it in to clay soils will improve aeration and drainage, making the soil lighter and easier to work, whilst in sandy soils it will increase nutrient and water holding capacity. As well as containing organic matter the compost contains moderate amounts of nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). So if you normally apply fertilisers you can reduce the application rate.

Early spring is a good time to add compost to your planting areas - a good rule of thumb is 1-2 wheelbarrow loads for every 5 m2 /16 sq. ft worked into the top 8-13 cm/3-5 inches of soil. If you only have a small amount of ready compost, try using it for transplants - dig a hole, then mix a trowel-full of compost in with the backfill - or plant new shrubs in a mixture of half soil, half compost. Courser compost can be used as a mulch, 3-5 cm/1-2 inches on top of the soil around your plants will help to smother and suppress weeds whilst retaining moisture in the soil.

Container plantCompost can help your container plants - twice a year add an inch to potted plants and window boxes. Or you could even make your own potting compost - why not try the following recipe for your containers: mix equal parts of sieved home compost with loam and leaf mould.

Finished compost can be used to make your own liquid fertiliser - soak an old pillowcase of compost in a pail of water overnight, then use the tea-coloured liquid to water houseplants or to spot fertilize.

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