Troubleshooting a Compost System

If you have set up a composting system for the first time this year, you might be finding that things are not going according to plan. Don’t worry. No matter what problems you face, or mistakes you make, it is usually fairly easy to get back on track.

Here are a few common issues and how to solve them:

Materials Are Taking Too Long To Decompose

  • Temperatures may be too high (or too low in winter).
  • There may be a problem with the moisture level. (Usually, too little water is a problem in the summer months.)
  • You might have too much carbon rich material and not enough nitrogen rich material.
  • The mix may be too acidic.
  • The things in your compost might just take longer to break down.

To solve the problem you could:

  • Shade your compost, or move it, to bring temperatures down.
  • Avoid adding too much nitrogen rich material at one (which will raise temperatures ).
  • If your compost is too dry, simply add water until it is right. (When the materials can be squeezed and will just hold together in your hand without releasing water or crumbling apart.)
  • Add a little wood ash to amend acidity (or take out very acidic material).
  • Wait. Sometimes, a little more patience is all that is needed. Alternatively, you could consider switching to a speedier composting method.

The Compost Smells Bad

  • You may well have added too much nitrogen rich material (such as glass clippings) at once.
  • The compost may be too wet (and/or compacted).

To solve the problem:

  • Cover your compost in wet weather, let it dry out in the sun (or let water out of a sealing composting container) if it is too wet.
  • Turn or mix your compost to increase aeration.
  • Add carbon rich materials to rebalance the system.

There Are Unwanted Creatures in the Compost

Flies, maggots, mice, rats… sometimes a compost heap can attract unwanted creatures.

If you have regular problems with an open heap or bin, consider composting in closed in containers instead. Or you could add physical barriers. Fly problems will be reduced by always covering kitchen scraps with carbon rich material. If foragers such as rodents are regularly a problem, consider fermenting food scraps first in a bokashi system before you compost them.

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