Common Compost Problems and How to Fix Them

With properly installed hardscape, a compost pile can easily integrate into the landscape of your yard. For gardeners who aren’t in the know, a compost pile is your at-home recycling facility, breaking down leaves, lawn clippings, and other organic materials into nutrient rich compost for your yard and home gardens.

Due to the nature of a compost post, several issues tend to compound the oxidizing process. A compost pile or bin should consist of one part green material and one part brown material for the proper bacteria to grow and sustain itself. If there is an imbalance of the materials in the compost pile, then the decaying process is compromised, and instead of your compost pile creating fertile soil, it’ll look and smell something akin to a garbage bin.

A Strong Rotting Odor

A healthy compost pile should smell like dirt and earth. A compost pile that smells like eggs is experiencing a lack of oxygen to support the growing beneficial bacteria. The bad bacteria had the opportunity to proliferate, releasing hydrogen sulfide, a potent, offensive odor.

Solution. Turn your compost around. Even though you may not want to get close to the source of the smell, the best solution to a compost pile that has gone awry is to turn it with the help of a pitchfork or similar tool. This will aerate the compost, allowing the beneficial bacteria to grow. Make sure to get all the way to the bottom of the compost pile.

Solution for a strong ammonia smell. A compost pile that emanates an ammonia smell has an excess of nitrogen due to the addition of nitrogen-rich material in the compost pile. Spread out the compost pile to help aerate and level ammonia levels. An ammonia smell is sometimes due to too much plant material. You can offset this by adding more brown material like soil, sawdust, peanut shells, or natural, unbleached cardboard. Until the ammonia level dissipates, try to reduce the amount of green material added to the compost.

Soggy Compost

Compost that is too soggy will be difficult to work with, potentially causing a slipping hazard.

Solution. Aerate the wet compost with a pitchfork and add more brown material to solidify the compost. During the summer months, you can use the sun to dry up the moisture content after spreading it thinly in the morning. By the afternoon, most of the moisture would have evaporated. You can use this opportunity to add even more brown material before compacting and moving the compost pile.

Compost Pile Contaminated by an Insect Colony

Naturally, you’re going to find bugs in your compost pile, usually, sow bugs and pill bugs. However, it only becomes a problem with the finished product, with these small crustacean-like creatures potentially harm the emerging roots of your garden plants.

Solution. Increase the temperature within the compost pile to ward off bug infestation. Use a compost thermometer to measure the temperature of the pile. It should be above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is too late for this process, your current compost pile isn’t lost. Spread a thin layer of the infected compost pile on a tarp under direct sunlight, ensuring that it is a relatively windless day. The light spread won’t give adequate hiding space for any bugs, with the heat from the sunlight triggering them to find other places to hide.

It may take a bit of effort to have the perfect compost consisting of fine, crumbly texture and earthy smell. But once you’ve troubleshot any issues, the compost will fortify nutrition-starved garden soil.