Common Composting Problems and Their Solutions

Common Composting Problems and Their Solutions


The following are 12 common composting problems gardeners who make compost may encounter at one time or another. These problems listed here are also presented with their best organic solutions.
PROBLEM: Flies, rodents and other animals are attracted to the pile.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: You have added bones, oil or meat to the compost.
SOLUTION: Food-like material should be buried near the center of the pile. You should also switch to rodent-proof closed bin if you are to add kitchen scraps food-like material to your compost.

PROBLEM: It’s only damp and warm in the center of the pile.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: Pile is too small or the weather is too cold that it has slowed down decomposition.
SOLUTION: Pile should be at least 3 feet high and 3 feet wide. This is the ideal size for decomposition.

PROBLEM: Your pile is crawling with bugs and other critters.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: When composting, it is normal to see bugs and other things in them. Worms, pill bugs and sow bugs actually help in the process of decomposition. But there are those that you don’t want in there like slugs and snails.
SOLUTION: The answer to this common composting problem is removing slugs and snails by hand the moment you notice them. When the compost is finished, you should also have the other bugs removed. Sow bugs can damage roots of seedlings. Spread the compost over a tarp and let it dry in the sun, the bugs will get the message and leave.

PROBLEM: Pile not heating up.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: Could be any of the following: not enough nitrogen, not enough moisture, compost is finished, not enough oxygen or cold weather.
SOLUTION: There should be enough nitrogen rich sources in the pile like food scraps, manure or grass clippings. Mix the pile up to allow it to breathe. If it appears dry, mix the pile and water it to give it some moisture. If the problem could be the cold weather, wait for warmer weather or cover the pile to warm it or compost using a bin.

POSSIBLE CAUSE: if you have this common composting problem, it means that the compost pile is too dry. There are kitchen scraps on the surface.
SOLUTION: Ants do no harm to the compost but you could spread them when you add the finished compost to your garden. Make sure there is enough moisture and the pile is not dry. Mix the material up and make sure kitchen scraps are in the middle.

PROBLEM: Grass clippings or leaves are not decomposing.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: Lack of moisture; poor aeration
SOLUTION: Layers should not be made up only of just one material like grass clippings, leaves or paper. Break down the materials and mix them up in a layer to hasten decomposition. Shred bigger materials to make them easier to breakdown.

PROBLEM: Finished compost is too rough.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: There are hard-to-break materials added like corncobs and eggshells.
SOLUTION: The solution to this common composting problem is to shred or chop up materials as you add them to the compost for a finely textured compost.

PROBLEM: Compost pile smells.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: the pile is compacted, too wet or poorly aired.
SOLUTION: If the pile smells like rotten eggs, rancid butter or vinegar, mix it up so it can air. Add coarse material like leaves, hay or straw and water it for added moisture. If the smell gets too bad, add dry materials on top. Wait until the materials dry out a bit more and then mix into the pile.

PROBLEM: There are plants growing in the pile.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: This common composting problem is observed by many gardeners. It means the pile is not heated up enough to kill weeds or volunteer seeds.
SOLUTION: If the sprouting plants are weeds, just pull them out and you may toss them back into the compost pile. If the plants are volunteer seeds (pumpkins, tomatoes, etc.) that you might want to keep, then have them transplanted.

PROBLEM: Pile gives off odor like ammonia.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: Not enough carbon.
SOLUTION: Add brown materials like hay, shredded newspaper, leaves, straw, etc.

PROBLEM: Wet, soggy or slimy compost.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: Too much moisture, not enough nitrogen or poor aeration.
SOLUTION: If wet weather is part of the problem, put a tarp or other loose-fitting cover over the pile. Turn the pile over and add nitrogen-rich materials. After adding nitrogen, the pile should heat up within a few days and then you can keep the pile cooking by turning it once every week or two.

PROBLEM: Dry and dusty compost.
POSSIBLE CAUSE: Dry weather (especially in the West).
SOLUTION: Water it! Turn the pile and water as you go. If the pile doesn’t heat up within a few days, add more nitrogen-rich materials. If adding nitrogen after watering is not helping, spread the pile apart and add some manure or bloodmeal. These ingredients should get the pile up and going again. Once the pile starts cooking, make sure it stays moistened so water it as often as you would a flower during a heat wave.

I hope these solutions to common composting problems help. If you have questions or suggestions, feel free to share in the comments.

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