Composting Do’s and 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.
- If adding food scraps, be sure to bury deep within the compost pile to avoid attracting rodents.
- 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
|Symptom||Possible Causes||Possible Solutions|
|Damp and warm only in the middle of the pile||Pile too small, built too gradual, 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 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. 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.|