6 Compost Problems and How to Fix Them

Composting is pretty easy, but every once in awhile, you run into a snafu. Use these tips to troubleshoot your problems.

by Brien Darby

As every gardener knows, composting is an essential process that promotes sustainability and plant health for gardens of all sizes. Seasonally purchasing compost to use as a soil amendment can be costly, and allowing precious organic material to end up in the waste stream has its price, too. Whether the pile being built will serve a home garden or something larger, such as a community garden, the principles for fast, efficient composting are the same: input the right about of “greens” and “browns,” and turn often. It’s that simple! From time to time, however, problems will arise with the pile. The following are common problems and how to fix them.

1.The Pile Smells

A healthy compost pile should not have a strong odor. If the pile does have a bad smell, it’s most likely too wet or has too much nitrogen. Spread out the pile for about a week, and then when rebuilding, add more carbon (brown) materials, such as leaves or straw.

2. Scraps Aren’t Decomposing

If you’re finding a lot of chunks of whole materials in your compost pile, either the pile is too dry or the scraps are too large. To remedy this, first, check the moisture and then add water accordingly. If that doesn’t work, try chopping up the materials into smaller pieces before adding them to the pile..

3. The Pile Attracts Animals

Attracting wildlife to your compost bin is a fairly common problem. A good strategy for keeping nuisance animals, like raccoons or groundhogs, away is to bury all food scraps deeper in the pile to cover their scent and turn the pile more often to speed up decomposition.

4. The Pile Isn’t Hot Enough

Active piles have a temperature between 110 to 160 degrees F. If the pile temperature is less than this, it might be too small, too wet or too dry; the pieces might not be small enough; or the pile is finished decomposing.

5. The Pile’s Too Hot

This can happen if you have too much nitrogen (aka green materials) in the pile. Try turning the pile and adding more carbon (brown) materials.

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6. The Pile’s Growing Mold

Fungus is common in a compost pile, and it can help with decomposition. However, it can be a symptom of a cooler pile, so heating the pile by adding more nitrogen and turning more often can be a fix if the mold becomes problematic.

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