Composting is a reliable way to transform yard waste into a resource valuable for the yard while reducing environmental impact. However, when compost goes wrong, what was supposed to be a fun and beneficial project can turn into a counterproductive nightmare. This article will discuss the common troubles that can arise while composting, identify what signs to watch out for, and recommend a solution for each.
Presence of pests in the compost pile: Animals such as raccoons, rodents, or insects are present or frequenting the compost pile. What is in the compost pile that is attracting them? Was any meat-based kitchen waste, fatty kitchen waste, or similar kitchen waste composted? These wastes are generally avoided as they attract undesirable animals into the yard. The problem can be dealt with by removing the matter that is attracting the animals. Other courses of action are making the compost bin animal-proof and adding a layer of dense matter such as sawdust.
Temperature of the pile is too low or too high: Compost decomposes best when the pile heats up as it decomposes, but should not heat up above 140 degrees. If the temperature is too high, the pile may be too large or poorly ventilated, and the situation can be rectified by decreasing the pile size or improving the ventilation. If the compost pile is not heating up, the problem can be rectified by identifying a possible cause and taking corrective action. The pile may be too small, and need to be increased. In cold weather, a larger pile is needed to maintain temperatures. If the compost pile is too dry, water the pile and turn the compost to mix it in. What is the compost pile made of? Ideally, a good balance is one part fresh material and two parts leaves or similar carbon-based materials. If the compost pile is primarily autumn leaves, it may need an addition of nitrogen. Sources include manure, natural nitrogen amendments, and green plant material such as lawn clippings. Turn the compost pile to mix the material. Make sure the pile has good ventilation, and turn it as necessary. One way to add better ventilation to a compost pile is to insert a pipe that has ventilation holes into it.
The compost pile exhibits foul smells: Compost that is decomposing properly should not exhibit much of a smell. If there is an ammonia smell coming from the compost pile, check the content and assess how much nitrogen is in it. The likely cause is that there is too high a concentration, and this can be rectified by adding a high carbon material. Examples of such are sawdust, leaves, and wood chips. Sources for high carbon material in the yard include old flowerbed mulch, old leaves, and any dead plant material. If the odor is more a rotten smell, check if the pile is too compact. If so, turn the pile to loosen the compost. Sometimes, piles that are too big will pack, and the solution is to reduce the size or even make into two piles. Check for excess moisture; is the pile saturated and waterlogged? If so, make sure it has adequate drainage, and add materials that will amend the pile. Wood chips, old yard mulch, straw, and sawdust are good materials to add for this purpose.
By knowing what to be on the lookout for and how to deal with any problems that may arise, gardeners can maximize the effectiveness of composting, and avoid unnecessary headaches and complications.