6 Most Common Composting Problems and Solutions

compost bin in a yard

By Matt Gibson

Composting is one of the most important skills a gardener can learn. Beginners often skip composting and dive right into planting and growing without a proper compost pile. Even some experienced gardeners choose to buy compost instead of making their own.This decision is usually because composting is messy and rather complicated. 

It’s easy to get started, but without the proper maintenance, your compost pile can turn into a disaster area in no time. Read on to find out how you can avoid composting problems and make the most out of your garden by keeping and maintaining a composting pile to create your own fertilizer for your garden. 

Dealing with Pests

Flies, maggots and ants, oh my! Flies are keen to lay eggs in decaying organic matter. Chop up any plant materials you add to your compost pile into very small pieces, and cover all kitchen scraps and organics with a nice layer of soil. Use a mesh screen to contain the whole pile and keep flies and other flying pests out of the compost. 

Ants are also a common problem in composting piles. The ants come around because your compost pile is too dry. If you have ants, there are also probably kitchen scraps on the top of the pile that weren’t covered well with a layer of soil. 

However, having bugs and worms in your compost isn’t always a bad thing. Pill bugs, sow bugs, and earthworms are great for aeration of the soil and helping the process of decomposition. However, there are some bugs, such as slugs and snails, you will want to rid yourself of before using the pile. Remove these pests by hand if you can, but if you’re having trouble getting them all, just lay out a tarp on a clear day, and spread the compost out thinly on the top. The soil and decaying foodstuff will rapidly dry out in the sun, and the bugs and slugs will find look for a more moist environment.

Not Enough Heat

A proper mixture of organics and soil will create heat as the concoction transforms into a natural fertilizer. If it’s not warm inside your compost pile, something is wrong. Either the material is finished composting and is ready to be used to fertilize your garden soil, or its ability to transform is being postponed by cold weather. 

Try adding more kitchen scraps and plant matter, as more nitrogen is usually what’s lacking if there is not enough heat in the mix. If it’s because of cold weather, try topping the pile with insulation in the form of straw bales and covering the pile with black plastic. The color black attracts sunlight and will help heat the compost naturally while the plastic protects the microbes from harsh, cold winds and climate. 

Pile Too Dry

In order to decompose, lots of water is needed in your compost pile to keep it from drying out during the process. As you are constructing the layers of your compost heap, add in plenty of water. It’s hard to get to the point where you have too much moisture, but it’s very easy to not have enough. 

Funky Aroma

A healthy compost pile should smell good, like a semisweet outdoorsy scent, not like sewage or ammonia. If your compost smells like sewage, it needs to be aerated better and stirred more often. If your compost smells like ammonia, there is too much green stuff (excess nitrogen, which occurs when food stuffs decompose) in the mix and not enough brown. Add more soil to the medley to solve this issue. 

Plants Sprouting Up

Just about every compost heap will have the occasional plant or weed sprout up. If it’s just weeds coming up, yank them out, and toss them back in the pile for decomposition. If it’s plants you want to keep, transplant them to a more permanent home. 

Composting the Wrong Materials

Don’t compost meat, fat, oil, or grease from meat, as these materials attract flies and even rodents. Plants that have contracted disease or mold don’t need to be infecting your compost either. Dispose of those properly far away from your garden or compost bin. Pet feces are another thing you need to keep far away from the compost bin. Cow manure is another story, but dog and cat feces will foul up your compost bin irreversibly. 

Do not compost weeds that go to seed, as they will end up taking over your compost bin entirely. Dairy products will go bad in your compost bin and create a foul smell. Onions and garlic are known to repel mealworms, which help with the decomposition process, so onion and garlic scraps are some of the few kitchen scraps you’ll want to keep in your kitchen. 

With a little care and maintenance—and by avoiding these common compost errors—it’ll soon be easy to keep your compost pile healthy and productive. If you’ve been experiencing problems with your compost heap, we hope you’ve found a solution in this article. Armed with this knowledge, you’re well on your way to a compost pile that creates environmentally sustainable fertilizer to make your garden the best it can be. Get ready for blue-ribbon fruit and vegetables, proliferating herbs, and showy floral blooms.

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