A compost pile should be part of every gardener’s yard, since it adds so many benefits for recycling and providing organic material in the garden. There are times, however, when it can be tricky to keep a compost pile in peak condition and breaking down material most efficiently. If you encounter any of these common problems, you can easily correct them and keep your compost pile at its best.
- Pile is Too Dry
Without adequate moisture, beneficial microorganisms cease to function and decomposition stops, turning a compost pile into a clumpy mess that does not decay into usable organic material. Keep the pile moist at all times, but not overly wet. A dampness like a squeezed sponge is ideal. It may be necessary to use a hose to water your pile occasionally, or a tarp or piece of plastic over the top of the pile can help keep moisture in the pile instead of evaporating.
- Foul Odor
A stinky compost pile is no gardener’s friend, and over-watering the pile will compact the material. When air space is decreased, the pile becomes anaerobic, resulting in an unpleasant odor. Turn the pile frequently to increase aeration and add larger pieces of dry, porous, carbon-rich material such as wood chips or straw to absorb excess water and improve air circulation.
- Pile is Cool
Check all the items required for a hot, quickly-decomposing pile: carbon, nitrogen, air and water. Correct any deficiencies. Another issue may be that a pile that is too small will have difficulty insulating itself. Increase the size of your compost pile by adding more material so it can generate sufficient heat from decomposition to keep itself warm.
- Pests in the Pile
While insects and worms are welcome helpers in a compost pile, a poor pile may also be attracting mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife. This usually means that the wrong material was used for composting. Never add meat, fish, bones, dairy products or oily food to the compost pile, all of which can have strong odors that will attract unwanted wildlife. Similarly, no human, cat or dog manure should be added to the pile. Avoid adding weed plants or diseased plants as well, since those weed seeds or disease spores could be transmitted to your garden or landscape when the compost is spread.
- Poor C/N Ratio
When planning the optimum conditions for compost decomposition, the standard recommendation is 3-to-1; three parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Carbon-based material is brown and nitrogen-based material is usually, but not always, green. Chopping or shredding additions to the compost pile will speed up the decomposition and help keep the pile balanced.
The best materials to add to your compost pile include…
Brown Material (Carbon-Based)
– Dried, dead Leaves
– Shredded paper, including newspaper
– Wood ash
– Chipped brush and wood chips
– Straw and twigs
Green Material (Nitrogen)
– Grass clippings and sod scraps
– Vegetable and fruit peels, scraps and rinds
– Disease and insect-free plant material, such as clippings and prunings
– Horse, cow, chicken and rabbit manure (herbivores)
– Coffee grounds and used coffee filters
– Used tea bags
– Used potting soil
No matter what issues your compost pile may be having, problems are easy to correct and you can quickly adjust your pile to be productive and efficient. Before you know it, you’ll have plenty of rich, nutritious compost to nurture your garden and landscape all year long.