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 Composting: Troubleshooting


Story:
So, you’ve given composting a try, but the results haven’t been what you wanted.  The bin just doesn’t work. So let’s explore some of the reasons why that compost bin may not be breaking down quite as rapidly as you were hoping for.
 
There are several things that can go wrong.  The first problem is that it’s too dry.  For composting to function at a rapid rate, the materials in the bin need to have moisture consistent with a wet sponge.  So, if your bin isn’t operating, try adding water.  If you turn the pile and it’s dry and fluffy, then add water.  That should give your compost bin a kick-start.
 
Another problem often seen in compost bins is not having enough greens.  Most homeowners have plenty of leaves and dry material, but they may not have the greens.  Greens add nitrogen that feeds the microorganisms in the compost bin.  So, what to do?  Add more greens!  A lot of coffee shops will give away coffee grounds.  They’re an excellent source of nitrogen.  Visit your local beautician because hair is an excellent source of nitrogen.  Also, add more kitchen scraps. 
 
If all that fails, a secret weapon can be added – an all purpose garden fertilizer.  Fertilizers, with nitrogen, are designed to make our lawns green.  By adding fertilizer to your compost bin, it will mimic adding greens and pick up the composting process.
 
There may be other problems.  For instance, if it has a rotten, foul ammonia type odor, it usually means that we’ve added too many greens.  Adding a lot of fresh grass clippings or manure often causes this.  The best way to correct this is to add more browns and turn the pile.  This does two things.  First, it lets more air in to dry out the excess moisture in the grass clippings.  And the browns also help counter balance the abundance of greens.
 
Another problem that you may encounter is that while you want all the good beneficial organisms to come, you may also be attracting other critters.  Raccoons, possums, and mice looking for a warm place to spend the winter are common occurrences with a compost pile.  If you’re putting a lot of food scraps in your bin that may be drawing the possums, skunks and raccoons, you’ll want to bury the material.  Take a shovel, part the compost pile, and add the food scraps into the center of the pile so that it’s harder to get.  Another way to keep wildlife out of the bin is to cover it.  There are pros and cons to covering the bin.  It keeps natural rainfall out, but it also keeps those predators out. 
 
If you follow these tips for troubleshooting problems in the compost bin, you’re on your way to success.  And once again – taking that debris and turning it into black gold.
 
This feature story prepared with Dennis Patton, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Johnson County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.