When an aerobic compost pile nears the end of its cycle, the temperature will drop and the material will start to resemble rich, dark soil. Because composting tends to progress fastest at the center of a pile, the top layer may still look unfinished even when lower layers are done, so dig in! If you’ve taken all steps to maximize the composting process it should only take 2-3 weeks to see results; even with minimal effort you should have plenty to harvest in about 3 months.
Harvesting compost from an aerobic pile is easy– just shovel through the pile and take out whatever finished compost you find. You can leave any material that hasn’t finished breaking down, or just mix it into your garden with the finished stuff and it will continue to compost over time.
Even if you aren’t ready to use the compost, consider harvesting anyway to separate the material that has completed breaking down. Composting works best with large volumes of fresh material that can heat up and support large microbe populations, and lots of finished compost will reduce the heat potential as well as the percentage of the pile that the microbes are able to consume.
If you’ve been composting for a while and it seems like things just aren’t going quite well, please see our troubleshooting guide!