A compost pile is a staple for most home vegetable gardeners. Compost is the easiest, safest and best way to add nutrients to your soil which allow your fruits, herbs and veggies to grow bigger and produce more.
Along the way you may encounter some issues with your compost. Most are
easily fixable with some simple solutions, or a little bit of "elbow
grease". Here I will discuss the most common compost pile issues you
will face along the way, and their popular solutions.
Your Compost Pile Stinks
This is the most common compost pile issue for home vegetable gardeners.
Your compost pile smells to high heaven and if you lived in the middle
of nowhere, you would really care less, but since your neighbor does
not share that same sentiment, it's an issue that needs to be addressed.
Most of the time the smell is due to lack of air. If your pile becomes
too wet or too compacted, anaerobic bacteria become abundant which
accounts for the smell. Too a much lesser extent, your pile could also
lack nitrogen and if your pile has an ammonia smell that means it has
too much nitrogen.
All of these issues are fixable. If your compost pile is compacted,
simply use a pitchfork and manually turn the pile over. If your compost
pile has become too wet or smells of ammonia, add straw or shredded
brown paper bags (leaves or wood chips would be more ideal) and turn
your compost pile with your pitchfork as noted earlier.
Animals and unwanted Insects
From time to time you will notice your compost pile attracts squirrels,
chipmunks and other insects. This is not necessarily a bad thing.
However, if you start seeing rats, mice and roaches, there is something
wrong. Chances are if you are experiencing these types of pests, you
have added something to the pile you should not have, and that would be
meat and/or dairy products. Do not add these to your compost pile.
Remove these items from your compost pile and discard in your regular
Not breaking down
You are taking care of your compost pile as you should, however you
notice that some items are simply not breaking down. This could be due
to a couple of reasons. If they are items that would normally break
down, i.e. food scraps, leaves etc., your compost pile could be lacking
in nitrogen and/or moisture. If the compost pile is dry, add water and
turn the compost pile over with your pitchfork. If nitrogen is the
issue, add either manure (horse, chicken or cow etc) or fresh grass
clippings and turn.
The second problem could simply be the item is just too large for your
compost pile. Large branches from trees and bushes are usually the
culprits. Break these items down in smaller sizes by running them over
with your lawn mower (if it can handle it), or grind them up with a yard
shredder. If neither option is viable, then simply discard of them via
your regular municipal means.
These are just some of the issues that you will come across with a
compost pile. However, the benefits of the compost you will make far
outweighs any issues that will arise. In the event that you are
experiencing something not mentioned here, take a look on pages 146 and
147 of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible by Edward C. Smith or read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Composting by Chris McLaughlin. Both are great resources and must haves for a gardener's library.
Additonal Compost Resources
Compost, Vegetable Gardener's Gold
Compost from the Sky
How to Build a Cedar Lattice Compost Bin