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Troubleshooting Composting Problems


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Possible Causes


Damp and warm only in the middle of the pile.

Pile could be too small, or cold weather might have slowed composting

If you are only composting in piles, make sure your pile is at least 3 feet high and 3 feet wide. With a bin, the pile doesn't need to be so large.

Nothing is happening. Pile doesn't seem to be heating up at all.

1. Not enough nitrogen
2. Not enough oxygen
3. Not enough moisture
4. Cold weather?
5. Compost is finished.

1. Make sure you have enough nitrogen rich sources like manure, grass clippings or food scraps.
2. Mix up the pile so it can breathe.
3. Mix up the pile and water it with the hose so that there is some moisture in the pile. A completely dry pile doesn't compost.
4. Wait for spring, cover the pile, or use a bin.

Matted leaves or grass clippings aren't decomposing.

Poor aeration, or lack of moisture.

Avoid thick layers of just one material. Too much of something like leaves, paper or grass clippings don't break down well. Break up the layers and mix up the pile so that there is a good mix of materials. Shred any big material that isn't breaking down well.

Stinks like rancid butter, vinegar or rotten eggs.

Not enough oxygen, or the pile is too wet, or compacted.

Mix up the pile so that it gets some aeration and can breathe. Add course dry materials like straw, hay or leaves to soak up excess moisture. If smell is too bad, add dry materials on top and wait until it dries out a bit before you mix the pile.

Odor like ammonia.

Not enough carbon.

Add brown materials like leaves, straw, hay, shredded newspaper, etc.

Attracts rodents, flies, or other animals.

Inappropriate materials (like meat, oil, bones), or the food-like material is too close to the surface of the pile.

Bury kitchen scraps near the center of the pile. Don't add inappropriate materials to compost. Switch to a rodent-proof closed bin.

Attracts insects, millipedes, slugs, etc.

This is normal composting, and part of the natural process.

Not a problem.

Fire ant problems.

Pile could be too dry, not hot enough, or has kitchen scraps too close to the surface.

Make sure your pile has a good mix of materials to heat up, and keep it moist enough.


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