The following is a post from contributing writer Angie.
One of the miracles of our backyard gardening (at least in our eyes) is the compost bin. We love seeing the rich dirt that comes from things like leaves, yard clippings, banana peels, apple cores, and any number of other materials coming out of (and around) our house. If you’re new to composting, learn how to start a compost pile.
We have two different composting bins in our backyard – a tumbler and a homemade bin from a trash can. Even though we’ve been using them for several years, we’re still definitely not composting experts. Instead, we have muddled our way through, learning as problems arise and celebrating when we use the rich compost in our garden.
Common Composting Problems and Solutions
My Compost Bin Stinks
Don’t be fooled by that well meaning person who scoffed at you for having a compost bin and said, “Why would you want something so stinky in your backyard?” Your compost bin shouldn’t stink if it’s healthy.
At the very core of the issue, it will help to keep the pile regularly aerated by turning it. However, here are some other solutions:
If your compost smells like ammonia, it could be one of two problems. If it is a nitrogen problem (from too much green matter), you’ll want to turn your pile and add more brown materials (like dried leaves, straw, toilet paper and paper towel tubes). It could also be that your pile has become too alkaline, so make sure to add more acidic materials like vegetable scraps.
If your compost bin smells like rotten eggs or excrement, your composting pile is probably too wet. You’ll need to add in more brown materials to soak up some of that moisture. When we had that issue, we used what we had on hand (because the smell was really unfathomable) and added in a bunch of toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes (we’d been saving them all up), and newspapers.
My Compost Seems Too Wet or Too Dry
You don’t want your compost to be either of these. You want it to be more like the consistency of a damp sponge (which has been wrung out of excess water).
If your compost is too dry, you’ll need to add moisture to the pile. A sprayer hose is a great way to do this. Just be sure that you don’t add too much. (This can especially be important right now if you are in a drought ridden area.)
If your compost is too wet, you’ll need to turn your compost and add more brown materials to soak up the moisture.
There are Pests in My Compost
If there are rodents and larger animals getting into your compost, it might mean that you don’t have your compost covered in some way. It is really best to cover it to not only keep them out but also to keep the heat in. Both of our compost bins have a latch of some type.
Another thing that you need to do, if you’re having animals getting in, is to remove any fatty or dairy materials that you’ve put in. Leftover meats, cheeses, and the like aren’t appropriate materials to be added to a compost pile. They will attract animals that you aren’t interested in attracting.
If there are insects in your compost (some are normal, of course), mix in some more brown materials and make sure that you have your compost pile covered.
If you have a ton of ants in your compost (yep, I’ve been there), it might mean that you have too much brown material or that your pile is too dry. Try adding in some water (but remember – not too much) and the ants will probably leave.
My Compost Pile Still Won’t Break Down
If none of these are the problem and your compost still won’t heat up enough, it could be that your compost pile is either too small or too large. It is ideal for compost bins to be somewhere between 3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet to 5 feet x 5 feet x 5 feet. Outside of those dimensions, it can get harder to manage them (or for them to get hot enough to compost).