Turn smelly compost bins and cold compost piles into sources of rich organic humus for the garden with these composting tips.
Compost should form the foundation of an organic garden, so it’s understandable that a gardener can get discouraged when the compost bin that was supposed to produce black gold yields foul odors or surprise animal guests. Solve these common composting problems and achieve a low-maintenance compost bin this season.
The Compost Bin Attracts Insect Pests
Organic gardeners are used to encountering a wide variety of insect life in the garden, but something about lifting the lid of a dark compost bin teeming with insect life can give even would-be entomologists the willies. Fortunately, the bugs that seek out the environment of a compost bin are seldom the ones that feed on garden plants.
If pill bugs or ants colonize the compost bin, aerate the pile daily and add blood meal or manure to increase the heat of the compost pile to 140 degrees F or greater. The insects will soon vacate these stuffy quarters.
The Compost Bin Attracts Rodents
If your compost bin has become the stomping grounds for mice, opossums, skunks, or worse, make sure no grease or animal products are making their way into the bin.
Although a commercial compost bin with a heavy-duty lid can dissuade many rodents, it won’t guarantee that a family of mice won’t seek shelter there for the winter. If a certain pest has discovered a free meal in your cantaloupe rinds and becomes a repeat offender, the only permanent solution may be a metal tumbling composter.
The Compost Bin Smells Bad
The most common cause of an odoriferous compost bin is an overabundance of materials high in nitrogen. Without an adequate amount of carbon-rich material, such as dead leaves, to balance the carbon-nitrogen ratio of the pile, anaerobic bacteria can proliferate. These bacteria produce ammonia and other sulfurous gases that have a characteristic sour odor.
Mix in shredded leaves or sawdust with a pitchfork to introduce oxygen and lower the acidity of the pile so that aerobic bacteria can thrive. For organic gardeners faced with a constant dearth of carbon-rich materials, vermicomposting may be a better option than a traditional compost bin.
The Compost Pile is Wet
Compost piles need moisture to decompose, but a soggy pile won’t support the activity of beneficial microbes. Many slimy compost piles suffer from a lack of carbon-rich materials, but some organic gardeners who live in areas with high rainfall amounts may need to exclude excessive rain from their piles.
Compost bins in the moderate to high price range come with a lid, but a simple tarp thrown over the compost pile is sufficient.
The Compost Pile is Dry
The compost pile should have a moisture content that resembles a wrung-out sponge. Organic gardeners that live in arid climates must remedy their dry compost piles with supplemental watering.
Gardeners who live in areas with watering restrictions needn’t waste this precious resource on a mere compost bin. Stale coffee, cooking water from pasta or vegetables, and a bucket of grey water from the morning’s shower are fine sources of moisture for the compost bin.