Compost Troubleshooting

Compost can get a bad reputation because people think it creates odor and attracts rats and insects. But when maintained properly, compost should not smell or attract pests.
Check this helpful table to find your compost pile’s problem and solution:
Problem
Bad Odor Like Rotten Eggs
Cause
Too much moisture, anaerobic conditions
Solution
Turn your materials frequently. Add dry brown material such as fallen leaves, woodchips, or straw.
Problem
Bad Odor Like Rotten Food
Cause
Exposed or inappropriate food scraps
Solution
Remove meat, dairy, or other inappropriate material. Cover food scraps with a thick layer of browns.
Problem
Bad Odor Like Ammonia
Cause
Too much nitrogen (greens), not enough carbon (browns)
Solution
Add browns to the pile. If needed, remove some greens, allow them to lie out, then reincorporate them into the pile in a few days.
Problem
Pile Not Breaking Down
Cause
Poor aeration
Solution
Turn the pile more frequently to get oxygen to the decomposing organics.
Problem
Low Pile Temperature
Cause
Pile too small

Insufficient moisture

Poor aeration

Lack of nitrogen

Cold weather
Solution
Increase pile size by adding greens and browns.

Add water to pile, and turn the pile.

Turn pile or add aeration piping, depending on size.

Add more greens.

Increase pile size or insulate it with hay bales or Styrofoam.
Problem
High Pile Temperature
Cause
Pile too large

Insufficient ventilation
Solution
Reduce pile size.

Turn the pile more frequently.
Problem
Insect Pests
Cause
Pile too dry or inadequately mixed. Contaminated or too much wood-based materials.
Solution
Make sure food scraps are covered in a layer of browns. If adding wood materials, make sure it is not contaminated with termites, carpenter ants or other insects. Add water to the pile while turning to deter bees and wasps.
Problem
Animal Pests
Cause
The bin or pile isn’t adequately covered, food scraps are exposed, or the wrong food scraps are in the pile.
Solution
Make sure the compost pile is covered. It should have an outer layer of browns, and should be kept in an enclosed bin. Add hardware cloth and make sure the barrier reaches 6 to 8 inches into the ground (to prevent burrowing). If you are still having trouble, remove meat, dairy, and fatty foods from the pile.
Adapted from Easy Compost by The Brooklyn Botanical Garden and New York City Master Composter Manual by the NY Department of Sanitation.

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