The compost pile is the center of the garden. The “brown gold” it produces can make or break your garden this spring. However, many times you do everything the right way, adding the right mixture of brown and green items, adding moisture and turning the pile and it still doesn’t make compost. Also, our recent cold weather may have stopped or slowed composting activity in your compost pile. Here’s some examples of a few common composting problems and how to solve them:
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1. The compost mats together and air cannot get into the pile.
When this happens, the pile needs to be turned. Chop up the matted layer and add moisture as you turn the pile. The pile should be loose, damp and fluffy when you are finished.
2. The compost pile is soaked and wet and smells like it is rotting.
If the compost pile is located in a low spot that collects water, it needs to be moved. Don’t add any more water and add more brown material such as leaves or shredded newspaper to soak up the water. Turn the pile as much as possible and cover with a tarp if the weather is unusually wet.
3. Compost material does not break down.
If the material is just sitting there you need to add more nitrogen to feed the microorganisms that break down the compost. This can be in the form of green material such as grass clipping, or granulated organic fertilizer. Also, turn the pile while adding water to the pile as you turn it and make sure the center of the pile is damp. Cover with a tarp if weather is really dry and add water every few days.
4. Compost pile has a strong ammonia smell.
A strong ammonia smell is caused from too much nitrogen or green material. Add leaves, straw, shredded newspaper or other carbon rich material and turn pile every few days until smell dissipates.
5. Compost pile doesn’t heat up quickly or at all.
A compost pile needs to be five feet tall by five feet wide and five feet deep to work most effectively. A smaller pile cannot heat up correctly and a larger pile may have too much material to break down quickly. Be sure to add plenty of green material or granulated organic fertilizer to encourage the composting process. Aim for one-third green material and two-thirds brown material. Turn often, and be sure the center of the pile stays moist. Adding manure is OK, but never add manure from domestic pets like dogs or cats.
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