Garden Basics

What Everyone Should Know About Unfinished Compost

At times I have been ready to use my compost in my garden, but it has not finished breaking down completely. Can this unfinished compost be used in the garden?

Not all compost is created equal; it depends on how and what was composted. Most homemade compost is from organic matter, which comprises a mixture of carbon and nitrogen from kitchen scraps, grass clippings, newspaper, cardboard, dried leaves, yard waste. 

The nutritional value of your compost depends on the organic materials that you use in the making.  

Unfinished compost should only be used as a mulch in the growing season, but may be dug into the garden beds during fall and winter to allow for decomposition before the growing season.

The Difference Between Unfinished And Finished Compost

Unfinished compost has small but identifiable bits of food scraps, peels, avocado pips, eggshells and leaves etc. The unfinished compost pile may still be warm, which means the organic material is still breaking down.

Finished compost will be rich, dark, crumbly and smell and look like fresh dark earth.

What Is Finished Mature Compost


In composting terms, finished or matured compost means that it is stable and ready to be used in your yard. 

  • The composting process has slowed down.
  • The organic matter is crumbly and smells and looks like fresh dark earth.
  • You do not recognize anything in the compost that you originally put in.
  • The compost is at an ambient temperature and does not heat up again when you turn or water your pile.
  • Finished commercial compost will be finer than homemade compost.

How To Use Unfinished Compost In Your Garden

Using Unfinished Compost As A Mulch

Unfinished compost is best used as a mulch on top of the garden soil. It will continue to breakdown with the help of microbes and worms that live near the top of the soil.

Mixing Unfinished Compost Into Your Garden Beds

Digging the unfinished compost into the soil as a soil amendment or filling your raised garden beds with immature compost may lead to a nitrogen deficiency in the soil temporarily until the compost has completely broken down.

The immature compost will continue breaking down, and the plants will compete for nitrogen during the growing season and may stunt the plants' growth.

This will not be a problem during the fall and winter seasons as most plants are no longer growing.

Can I Bury Unfinished Compost


Absolutely you can bury unfinished compost and even kitchen waste straight from the kitchen instead of composting in traditional piles or bins first. Trench composting has been around for many centuries.

If you bury the unfinished compost, make sure it has decomposed before planting. An ideal time to bury your kitchen waste will be in fall or winter, and by spring the bed will be ready.

You will be surprised how fast most things decompose. Cover it completely to keep critters away.

How To Speed Up Unfinished Compost

Three most important points when making compost:

  1. Start will smaller shred, chopped, torn material
  2. Add lots of greens (nitrogen) such as grass clippings, kitchen waste, coffee grounds
  3. Turn the pile, mixing up all the materials – the more often you turn, the faster it will compost

To speed up your unfinished compost, find the cheapest high nitrogen in your area or that which is easily accessible to you when trying to get your compost to speed up.

Add high nitrogen such as:

  • green grass clippings
  • chicken manure
  • rabbit droppings
  • coffee grounds or tea bags from the local coffee shop
  • bloodmeal
  • fish emulsion

Turn the active compost pile with a garden fork or compost aerator, ensuring the carbon/nitrogen ratio is correct (2-3 parts brown (carbon) to 1 part green (nitrogen)) and give it good watering.

Sifting Unfinished Compost


Use a sifting screen or an old milk crate and sift the unfinished compost. Once the finished compost falls through the screen, the larger particles can be placed back into the compost bin for the next batch.

Can I Make Compost Tea With Unfinished Compost

Immature compost may contain pathogens that may be damaging to plants; therefore, I would caution against using unfinished compost when making compost tea.



Unfinished Compost

  • competes with plants for nitrogen
  • may stunt growth
  • may inhibit seed germination
  • use it as a mulch

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