Sometimes, a compost pile can go wrong. While it can be motivating and fun to make an effort to reduce your overall waste by repurposing it into fertilizer, it can also turn into a hot, slimy mess. We're on the same team—and if you have compost problems, we have some solutions!
If your compost is doing something it shouldn't be, aerating or mixing it will help most of the time. Adding air and unclumping chunks of compost is always beneficial to the decomposition process. If you have a rotating drum, turn it daily and occasionally poke a stick in there to de-chunk. If you have a pile or bin, use a pitchfork or a long aerating tool to turn it over. (Urban Turnip has some great tool recommendations.)
Read on for more solutions to common problems.
Too Wet or Slimy
If your compost pile is soggy or slimy, consider its location and try moving it to a spot where less rain will hit it. You may also have a drainage issue. Can you add holes to your bin? A wet compost pile may also mean you have too much nitrogen from "greens" like moist vegetable peelings. Add a healthy dose of "browns," such as leaf much or finger-sized twigs, and aerate well.
My family often has a green-heavy pile, and I've learned to stockpile our available browns. I keep a separate bin for dryer lint to add to the compost next to my dryer. I'll also take a few handfuls of mulch from the corner of the yard—where we pile mulched leaves from the previous fall that didn't decompose over the winter.
I try to add a few scoops of these when throwing in our kitchen scraps, but I often forget and skip a day or two. Every once in a while, I'll add a gallon or so of these browns along with some shredded paper and our bin will dry up.
A compost pile can sometimes get dried out. Is it in a spot where the sun can dry it out? Move it to a shadier location where more rain can hit it. If necessary, don't be afraid to take a hose or sprinkler to your pile a few times a week. Keep in mind, however, that this can quickly result in gallons of waste water.
Adding some extra greens can also help. I've even heard of people adding their expired beer to a compost bin with great success! As always, turn your compost over to mix in the layers underneath.
Too Stinky or Not Decomposing
Most people think compost stinks. While it may be surprising, a compost pile that's doing its job is not smelly—but if it isn't rotting, the smell will knock you over! Add sawdust or wood chips and spent potting soil to a stinky pile and stir well. Break up the chunks, which will speed decomposition, and add a fine, dry material to help the stinky food scraps get back on track. Make sure the kitchen scraps you add to your compost are smaller and able break down faster. Aim for the size of a baby carrot or smaller if you have serious trouble.
After a month or so, if you find that the lettuce in your bin is still just wilted lettuce, your compost isn't decomposing. Your bin may be too small or not replenished often enough. For this problem, add a few gallons of equal parts brown and green (plus a lot of coffee grounds).
It's horrible to encourage food waste, but maybe this is the week to buy a watermelon for the rind—and corn for the cob and husk. You can also encourage your next-door neighbors to pitch in if they don't already have a bin themselves.
Bugs and Other Animal Invaders
We had a crazy bug problem last summer: we saw swarms of fruit flies every time we opened the lid. I admit, I almost gave up for the summer after a successful decade on the low-waste bandwagon. Some friends talked me back into making more of an effort, and I'm glad they did.
I had a hunch our compost was too cool and we needed it to warm up so it would be uninviting to the flies. I turned the drum daily and stopped adding greens for a week or so and added lots of my stockpiled browns instead. The bugs went away, and both the compost pile and my family were happy again. So, if you've got bugs, try aerating and adding browns.
If you have animals making a mess of your lawn with yet-to-be-decomposed compost, your bin might need a tighter lid. A few bricks on top or a bungee cord will keep out most wily raccoons. If you live in an area with bears, talk to a local park ranger or game warden about bear-proofing containers and guidelines. Again: mix well. Turn your decomposed stuff to the top and bury your tastiest fruit peelings and greens in the middle. You may also do an audit and make sure you're not adding meat products or foods with sugar or oil that will attract critters.
We're fans of composting food waste and want to hear about your compost problems and triumphs! Send us a pic of your bin by tagging us on social media @TomsofMaine.
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Why It’s Good
Sometimes a compost pile can go wrong. Compost problems stink—and we have solutions common issues.