Composting Do’s and Don'ts

Composting Do's

  • 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.
  • If adding food scraps, be sure to bury deep within the compost pile to avoid attracting rodents.

Composting Don'ts

  • Don't add fish, meat, dairy products, bones, baked goods, 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. Also, avoid weeds, which produce abundant seeds, 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.
  • Don't use treated sawdust, coal fire ash or synthetic fertilizer, because they can harm your soil and plant health. 
  • Don't add glossy or coated paper. Also, avoid composting sticky labels on fruits and vegetables, because they are not biodegradable. 

Compost Pile Troubleshooting

SymptomPossible CausesPossible Solutions
Damp and warm only in the middle of the pilePile too small, built too gradual, or cold weatherForm 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 allNot enough nitrogenMix in fresh grass clippings, manure, or food scraps.
Matted, undercomposted leaves or grass clippingsCompaction, poor aeration or lack of moistureAvoid 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 eggsNot enough oxygen too wet or compactedTurn 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 ammoniaNot enough carbonAdd 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 pestsInappropriate materials (meat, oil, bones, etc.) or food too close to surfaceDispose 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.CompostingIf garden pests are identified in pile, use traps or barriers between pile and garden.
Infested with fire antsToo dry, not hot enough or food too close to surfaceDrench 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.