Troubleshooting Common Composting Struggles

common backyard composting issues, their cause and how to fix them

This is the seventh post in the backyard composting series.

At one time or another, you will build a compost pile the experiences some or all of these common issues.  Knowing the likely cause or your struggles will lead you to the solution.  

Top 6 Backyard Composting Issues and How to Fix them

My pile is not breaking down

  • First check moisture content. Can you squeeze it hard and barely get a drop? If not, you need to turn the pile and water it.
  • If moisture is good, how is the C:N ratio? Chances are you have too much carbon and need to add more nitrogen. Turn the pile while adding in more N materials as you go. Make sure to water in the new materials, too!
  • If both of the above aren’t working, check your pile size. Is it roughly 3x3x3 ft? Smaller piles can take longer to break down and high temperatures are harder to achieve.

My pile isn’t heating up

  • See the above for solutions/causes.
  • Has your pile been ‘cooking’ for a while and the material appears broken down?  The composting process can be nearing completion.  

My compost pile smells bad

  • You have too much Nitrogen! Turn your compost pile while adding in a generous amount of carbon.  Make sure to check moisture levels while turning and adding material.
  • You’re waterlogged and anaerobic. Turn the pile adding in rough carbon (wood chips or dry leaves) without watering! Make sure to cover your pile and divert water runoff away from the bottom of your compost pile.
  • Still stinky? I have had a scenario where the woodchips I added caused a foul smell in while decompositing. Luckily the smell was gone by the time the compost was finished. 

My compost pile attracts vermin

  • Stop adding food waste to your pile. Consider feeding food waste to chickens or vermicomposting. If neither of these are an option, only add food waste to the center of the pile. It will break down quickly and the heat in the center will deter pests.
  • Turn your pile regularly. I have noticed mice will move into my piles if I don’t turn them often. With 18 day composting, you should turn it every other day. Breaking up their home regularly will deter them from sticking around.
  • Compost in the chicken run and let the chooks turn it for you…(psst, they love to eat mice, too). This system is an amazing way to create high quality compost you don’t have to turn. You pile it up, they kick it around, and repeat. Less work for you, chickens get free food. Win-win!

My compost pile is ugly

  • Contain it with a pretty box. Painted pallets or fencing you can easily move would work. Be creative. There is a plethora of free goodies in spring cleanup.
  • Encourage a mind shift. It is a beautiful thing to take responsibility for your waste stream.  With an added bonus of making amazing compost.
  • Get artsy! Contain your piles with pallets and skin those with scrap wood or plywood and get painting!

Don’t let a little problem deter you from creating your own, beautiful compost.  

Do you have a different issue you’re struggling with?  Let me know in the comments below.

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