Common Composting Problem Solutions

A bin of compost.

The goal of composting is to use waste produced within your home to create fertilizer. It’s organic, resourceful, and good for the environment. However, whether you're a beginner or a seasoned expert at composting, some problems may arise along the way that seem tricky to handle. To ensure you are getting the most out of your composting efforts and quickly clearing up problems, read about common issues and solutions below.

Wet or Soggy Compost

Often, compost can become wet, soggy, or even slimy. The cause of this problem is either poor aeration, an abundance of moisture, or a lack of nitrogen-rich material. Grass clippings or leaves that end up matted down when wet can cause this problem. This is because the wetness and heaviness of the pile creates a suffocating density that prevents a healthy flow of air from entering the pile. An issue associated with a soggy compost pile is that it attracts unwanted visitors, such as sow bugs, pill bugs, and earwigs. It also will mean a longer composting process. To solve this problem, you should try to keep your pile dry, especially in wet weather conditions. Try placing a loose-fitting lid or tarp over the pile. Another option is to turn it regularly every week or two to ensure proper ventilation. Finally, add a mix of “hot” nitrogen-rich items to the pile, such as shellfish shells, as well as fibrous and non-matting ingredients like shredded corn cobs or sawdust.

Dry or Dusty Compost

A bin of dry compost with a a metal rake.

Sometimes, the opposite of the above mentioned problem occurs. Compost can become dry or dusty, which common in dry areas like the west where there is minimal rainfall during certain seasons. Because moisture is needed to support the bacterial life that facilitates the composting process, this is a big issue. Luckily, it’s a simple one to fix. Water your pile with a sprinkler enough to wet the materials to the moisture level of a damp sponge, ensuring it is wet to the center of the pile. Turn the pile as needed to create an even coating of moisture. It’s as simple as that! Be sure to keep it from drying out again—the microorganisms in your pile will drink a lot of water, so check it regularly to keep the process moving along.

Sprouted Plants

A green sprout in soil with seeds around it.

It’s common for your pile to begin sprouting plants if it’s not adequately killing the weed seeds it contains. Weeds and even vegetables such as tomatoes or pumpkins can begin to take hold in your pile. To solve this problem, pull the weeds from their roots and then simply toss them back onto your compost pile. If the plants, such as vegetable sprouts, are worth keeping, you can carefully transplant them to your garden to let them flourish without interrupting your composting process.

Unwelcome Visitors

A skunk.

Compost piles can attract a range of unwanted visitors. First, bugs may take up residence in your materials. Pill bugs, sow bugs, ants, and earwigs are all commonly found in compost piles. As you turn your pile, it will be easy to spot bugs since they typically come in large quantities. While these pests aren’t detrimental to your compost pile (sow bugs actually help to break it down), they should be removed from the finished product before it's transported to your garden. You can remove them then by spreading the mixture thinly on a tarp under the sun, which will drive them out. The presence of bugs may indicate that your pile is decomposing slowly. To get rid of them completely, raise the heat of the pile to over 120 degrees. To do this, turn your pile and water it, adding nitrogen sources like manure. The heating process will ramp up naturally, driving bugs out.

Other common unwanted guests to your compost pile are raccoons, opossums, skunks, or other yard critters. These animals will tear up your compost pile in search of anything edible, especially if it's filled with kitchen garbage like meat scraps or fat. To discourage these visits, mix kitchen waste with soil or wood ashes prior to burying it in your pile. If that doesn’t work, use a covered bin to keep these pests away for good.

Even when these composting problems occur, they are easy enough to solve. Keep the process going by quickly addressing issues as they arise, using this guide for easy and effective solutions.