Whether you are a composting novice or an experienced home composter, no composting journey is smooth and hassle-free. As often happens with composting, life gets in the way and before you know it, you’re struggling with your compost pile, whether it be a rodent problem, an odour problem, or both.
There’s no need to panic, there are solutions to your composting problems! Below are eight of the most common problems with home composting and how to fix them.
Composting problem #1: Too wet
The general rule of thumb for a good compost mix is two parts “browns”, dry materials such as leaves, cardboard and shredded paper, to one part “greens” such as food scraps, vegetable peels, plant trimmings, coffee grounds and even chicken manure.
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So if your compost looks like one big pile of slimy sludge, chances are that it’s not getting enough air because you have added too many “greens” without adding enough “browns”.
Solution: You will need to loosen the pile to aerate it. The easiest way around this problem is to dig with a shovel whilst adding some brown matter such as cardboard, dry leaves or paper to balance out the pile. To avoid this problem going forward, make sure to add equal portions of ‘browns’ each time you throw in your veggie scraps or other ‘greens’.
Composting problem #2: Too dry
If you have the opposite problem where the pile is too dry, you haven’t balanced the compost pile with enough ‘greens’.
Solution: Add some water to help the process along and throw in some vegetable scraps, food waste, lawn cuttings (if chemical and spray free), leaf trimmings and dead plants.
Composting problem #3: Smells awful
If there’s a distinct smell coming from your compost bin, the pile is too moist and it’s not getting enough air.
Solution: Address it the same way you would when the pile is too wet – add more brown matter such as shredded paper and dry leaves and turn the compost over to aerate it.
Composting problem #4: Rodent and pest problem
If you’ve got vermin such as mice and rats running around in your compost bin, it may be a sign you’re throwing something in there that they’re drawn to – whether meat scraps, mouldy cheese, bones or stale bread.
Solution: You will need to fish these out (if possible) to stop the problem. Moving forward, rather than throwing these items in the bin, if you have garden space, consider digging a deep trench and dumping these food items in there instead. Make sure to dig a deep enough trench that will deter your dog – or your neighbour’s dog! – from digging all these items back up.
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If you don’t have garden space to dig trenches, then choose a compost bin that is off the ground, such as a rotating composter or tumbler that will deter vermin since they will be unable to reach the items inside. If you prefer to continue using the compost bin you have, then try burying the base of the bin into the ground and line with a fine wire mesh to stop rodents from trying to get in.
Composting problem #5: Lots of cockroaches
If you’ve got a cockroach infestation in your compost bin, it’s highly likely that you’ve added too much fruit and vegetable scraps.
Solution: Address it the same way you would when the pile is too wet/smells awful – add more brown matter and turn the compost over. If it’s a significant problem, you may need to just bury the entire pile and start your compost over again ensuring that you’re maintaining the right green/brown ratio.
Composting problem #6: Lots of maggots
First makes sure they are maggots and not black solider fly larvae as these are beneficial to your compost bin as they can turn fruit and vegetable food scraps into compost more efficiently than worms. You can tell the difference between maggots and black soldier fly larvae because the latter are bigger, anywhere from two to four times the size of maggots.
Have an actual maggot problem, or worried that the black soldier fly larvae are crowding out the worms?
Solution: Address it the same way you would when the pile is too wet/smells awful – just add more brown matter. These critters thrive on nitrogen-rich products so limiting their access by piling dry leaves, saw dust and cardboard will help achieve more balance in your compost pile.
Composting problem #7: Sticks aren’t breaking down
If you’ve added sticks and twigs in your compost bin and you’ve noticed that they aren’t breaking down, it’s likely they’re too large and bulky.
Solution: Just break them up into smaller pieces and return back into the pile.
Composting problem #8: Still can’t get the mixture right
Solution: Practice makes perfect. Composting is all about trial and error, when you come across a problem, you either need to add brown matter or green matter, aerate it, or perhaps find a compost bin that is more suitable to your needs. You’ll know when your compost is ready to be used on your garden beds when it looks, feels and smells like soil.
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Cover image by Anna Tarazevich.