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FAQ Section

Find answers to the most common composting questions here!

Compost Pile Troubleshooting

Possible Solutions

Symptoms

Possible Causes

Pile not heating up at all

Not enough nitrogen

Mix in fresh grass clippings, manure, or food scraps.

Matted, undercomposted leaves or grass clippings

Compaction, poor aeration or lack of moisture

Avoid thick layers of leaves, grass, or paper. Break up layers with garden fork, then wet and remix the pile. Shred materials.

Odor like rancid butter, vinegar or rotten eggs

Not enough oxygen too wet or compacted

Turn pile, fluffing materials to aerate them. Add coarse dry materials like leaves as needed to soak up excess moisture. If odor is intense, possibly cover with a layer of newspapers and/or coarse dry materials and allow pile to mellow before turning.

Odor like ammonia

Not enough carbon

Add brown materials and aerate. If odor is intense, possibly cover and allow pile to mellow before turning (see preceding row).

Attracting rats, raccoons, dogs, flies or other pests

Inappropriate materials (meat, oil, bones, etc.) or food too close to surface

Dispose of meat and oil. Bury kitchen scraps 8 to 12 inches deep in the pile.

Infested with fire ants

Too dry, not hot enough or food too close to surface

Drench ant mounds with compost tea sweetened with feed-grade molasses. Broadcast low-toxicity fire ant bait for major infestations. Carefully rebuild pile to proper conditions, wetting thoroughly.

DOs and DON'Ts

DOs

  • DO mix a variety of vegetable food scraps with grass clippings and leaves. 

  • DO keep the pile damp, but never soggy

  • DO bury food scraps deep within the compost pile to avoid attracting rodents.

DON'Ts

  • DON’T add fish, meat, dairy products, bones, fatty foods or grease to your compost pile. These food scraps do not easily decompose and may attract animals.

  • DON’T use diseased plants or plants that are toxic to other plants.

  • DON’T add weeds, because they may not be killed during the composting process.

  • DON’T add pet feces or used kitty litter. Although they may eventually break down in compost, they also harbor bacteria, germs, viruses and parasites.

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