Six solutions for your compost crisis

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Composting is an easy and effective way to reduce garbage and provide nutrient rich soil for your garden or house plants. But problems do crop up. Don't despair (or stop composting). Check our handy guide for solutions to the more common problems and get your compost back on track. Problem: PEST INFESTATIONS If you see dogs, raccoons, or rodents nosing through your compost or if there is an abundance of flies, wasps and ants, you have reason for concern. Properly attended compost should not attract critters of any kind. Solution:
  • never add meat, pet waste, fats, or bones to a compost pile -- they tend to attract animals.
  • cover food scraps with several centimeters of soil or wetted newspaper and turn the pile weekly to encourage decomposition.
  • Problem: TOO WEEDY There's always going to be some weeds in compost and it shouldn't be a concern -- until the weeds begin to take over. You need to get them under control so you don't want to introduce weeds or their seeds into your gardens when you add your enriched compost. Solution:
  • adding manure, fresh grass clippings, kitchen scraps, or other high-nitrogen level materials should balance things out and reduce the weeds
  • Problem: SLOW TO DECOMPOSE If your pile is not heating up, chance are it's lacking nitrogen. Solution:
  • add a healthy dose of fresh grass clippings
  • if the pile seems too dry add some water
  • add a shovel full of earth to the pile, which is full of helpful microorganisms and bacteria that break down the organic material into compost
  • certain organic matter, (fresh leaves and grass clippings in particular) can be surprisingly resistant to decomposing but you can speed up the process by shredding the material and mixing in straw or dry leaves
  • if it's too wet or too dry that will affect the speed of decomposition
  • Problem: TOO DRY Decomposition begins with a good combination of moisture and heat. If the pile is too dry, organic matter simply won't break down. Solution:
  • increase the level of moisture mixing in rich organic soil, kitchen scraps, and coffee grounds. water the pile and let it sit
  • if it's still too dry after a week, repeat the process
  • Problem: TOO WET Ironically, a compost pile that is too wet won't be effective either. Your compost pile should be as moist as a damp kitchen cloth. Solution:
  • cover your pile during heavy rains using a simple plastic tarp
  • turn the pile on a weekly basis, and work in dry materials (straw, sawdust, or dry leaves) as you do so
  • make sure the lid to your compost bin isn't leaking, since this will also make your compost soggy
  • Problem: BAD ODOUR A smelly compost is an unhappy compost. If yours has a nauseating, rotting smell, it means there's not enough air circulation or the pile is too wet. Solution:
  • turn the soil on a regular basis to add oxygen, which speeds up the process and eliminates any foul odours
  • add coarse, dry material—such as straw or shredded leaves to break up the heavy compost
  • Andrew Hind is a freelance writer specializing in eco-friendly gardening.