In the composting world, there are two types of people: one who thinks you just throw garbage in a heap and let it decompose, or composting is an intricate art that takes a lot of work. The truth of the matter is it is a combination of the two. It can be easier than you may have thought. It isn’t unusual to have the typical composter problems, but we have the solutions to remedy those problems and get you back on track.
Here’s a look at 5 of the most common problems with composting and how to avoid them.
As you can imagine a compost pile isn’t going to smell like roses, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for a situation where your compost smells like poop either. A healthy compost pile shouldn’t have a strong odor at all. If your compost smells like ammonia, then your heap is either too wet or there is too much nitrogen in the pile.
The Fix: To fix this, you will want to spread your compost out for a week or so. This will let the compost dry out and will allow for the nitrogen to dissipate. Then, when you’re rebuilding the pile, you’ll want to add more carbon-based (brown) materials. This includes dead leaves and straw.
There are going to be times throughout the composting cycle that you’ll see small animals like rats, mice, squirrels, and insects gravitating to the pile. This means there is something wrong with the compost and it’ll require immediate attention.
The Fix: There are several factors that come into play as to why your compost is attracting unwanted critters. The first problem could be the addition of meat or dairy products to your compost. You do not want to toss things like meat, cheese, and other animal products (other than egg shells) to your compost. Only add kitchen scraps like fruit and veggie peels, coffee grounds, and things of that nature.
You can keep animals out of your pile by making sure the materials you add to the pile are chopped up small before you add it to the pile. You then want to cover the new “green” material with “brown” materials. Then cover the entire pile with a mesh screen to help keep animals out. This mesh screen will also keep insects out, too.
If you notice that those apple cores and banana peels aren’t breaking down and you’ve put them in your compost pile over two months ago, then there’s a problem. There are several reasons why your compost isn’t breaking down, either the pile isn’t wet enough or the scraps you’re throwing in there are too large.
The Fix: Before you add things to your compost pile, you’ll want to make sure the pieces are small. The smaller the pieces are, the quicker they will break down. Now this doesn’t mean you have to go through the entire pile and chop things up, but just make sure any new scraps are small before adding them to the pile.
The second fix is adding some moisture to the pile. You do not want a dry or dusty compost pile. Moisture is necessary for the bacteria that facilitates the decomposition process. You can easily fix this by watering your pile from time to time. The overall moisture of your pile should be like a damp kitchen sponge. You don’t want to over-water it though, because it will make your compost smell horribly, as mentioned above.
Although you will be using your compost pile for gardening, you don’t want plants to start sprouting in the pile itself! One of the reasons why your compost pile is sprouting is because it isn’t getting hot enough to kill the seeds that are in it. This can include weed seeds, but also veggie seeds like tomatoes, pumpkins, and the like.
The Fix: Unfortunately, if your pile is sprouting weeds, you’ll have to get in there and pull them out from the root and put the weeds in the un-finished compost. However, if you are sprouting veggies and want to keep the plants, feel free to transplant them to the garden or a pot. No point in getting rid of vegetable plants – especially if you’re starting a garden!
We mentioned that if your pile is sprouting plants, then it’s probably because your compost pile isn’t hot enough. The center of a healthy compost pile should be as hot as a cup of tea (or 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and it should reach that temperature within a week or so.
The Fix: If your pile hasn’t been able to reach up to the desired temperature, then that means there isn’t enough nitrogen in the pile. You can add more nitrogen by adding more “green” items to the mix. This includes grass clippings, left over fruit or vegetable peels, rinds, and other things like that.
If this happens during the colder months, you’ll want to insulate the pile by putting bales of hay around the compost and covering it with a black tarp. This will keep the heat from the decomposition process in the pile, but it will also protect the bacteria from the cold and keep them alive.
Creating a compost pile is going to take some work and diligence, there’s no doubt about that. Along the way, you’ll run into some of these common compost problems, but don’t give up! By staying on top of the pile and monitoring the progress, you’ll be rewarded with nutrient dense compost that will help your garden and house plants thrive!