Composting Do’s & Don'ts

DO mix a variety of other vegetable food scraps with grass clippings and leaves. Clippings tend to compact, which may inhibit the flow of air through the pile.

DO keep the pile damp, but never soggy.

DONT 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.

DONT use diseased plants or plants that are toxic to other plants.  Also, avoid weeds, which produce abundant seeds, since they may not be killed during the composting process.

DONT add pet feces or used kitty litter. Although they may eventually break down in compost, they also harbor bacteria, germs, viruses, and parasites.       

Compost Pile Troubleshooting

  SymptomPossible Causes
 Possible Solutions
Damp and warm only in the middle of the pile Pile too small, built too graduall, or cold weather  Form pile at least 3 feet high and 3 feet wide. Cover with tarp.  Put in covered bin. Or allow to compost “cold”.
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 re-mix 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.  Use a rodent-resistant bin.  Bury kitchen scraps 8 to 12 inches deep in the pile.
 Attracting various  insects, centipedes, slugs, etc. Composting If garden pests are identified in pile, use traps or barriers between pile and garden.
 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.