Compost Troubleshooting

Asked March 16, 2017, 9:50 AM EDT

Dear Master Gardener: I attempted a compost pile comprised largely of kitchen scraps (no dairy, meats, etc.) and lawn clippings, and I housed this pile in a rust-proof, steel (expensive) garbage can outfitted with a lid and holes drilled on all four "sides" of the canister. However, after almost a year of sitting in the container (stirred occasionally by my husband), the material is still quite smelly, green, and sloshy. Do I need more brown matter? If so, what would be best to add? If not, do I need to just forget the entire thing? I am concerned that I am making a toxic gas dump in the can rather than a healthy compost. Please advise when you can. Thanks in advance for your assistance!

New Castle County Delaware

1 Response

From what you describe, it sounds like you have a couple of problems. 1) Not enough browns and 2) not enough oxygen is getting to the pile. You might want to try two things 1) putting a PVC pile with holes drilled in the middle into the middle of the pile and 2 leaving the lid off, but put a large piece of screen across the top with a rock on it. That will keep the critters from getting into the pile. I have included some more tips for you below. If these don't work, please write back and let me know.


Tips About Composting

1 – First and foremost remember that you are Cultivating the Organisms rather than the compost and you Do NOT want to kill the organisms

2 – Keep an Optimal Balance – 3 to 1 Ratio of Browns to Greens

Add a layer of greens and then layer it with browns.

Too many browns – Slows down the decomposing- Add greens

Too many greens – Smell – Add browns and turn the pile. Will make it less attractive to animals.

3 – Turn More Often – Adding fresh O2 will break it down faster, keeps the pile hotter.

4 – Check Moisture Level – Water is important. Should have moisture content between 40 and 60%. Should feel like a damp wrung out sponge with no water dripping. Use the sponge squeeze test. Too dry will slow down the pile (add water), too much moisture will cause it to stink (add dry material and turn).

5 – Check Temperature - Temperature should be between 140 and 160. Use a thermometer. Too dry will cool down the pile (add water) and turn pile.

6 – Shred Larger Ingredients – Especially the browns because they take the longest time to break down. Smaller is better.

7 – Use an ActivatorOrganic, NO chemicals. Can use alfalfa meal. Can also use fresh manure, bone, blood, or cottonseed meal, or comfrey.

9 – More Than 1 Pile – Once the pile starts to break down, start another pile. If you add new materials to the old materials then you will have to start your time frame all over again.