compost bin not composting

Asked June 5, 2018, 5:49 PM EDT

We added vegetables etc to the bin up until maybe November. Opened it up after the April snowfalls, in mid may. The enclosed photos show that there were so many seeds, eggshells, and pieces, not the smooth dirt I would like. It get half day of sun. what more could we do? It is a big black earth machine.

Hennepin County Minnesota

5 Responses

Thanks for the question and congratulations on composting. Using the end result can do wonders for your other gardens. Composting is a natural process of decay, largely driven by bacterial action. Even under the best of conditions, it can take six months or more for full decay to obtain and produce the smooth dirt that you were hoping for.

A few comments/suggestions:
1). For bacterial decay to occur, the compost pile needs to be moist. When you started this last November, did you water it very well? Had you not done this, this would be a major explanation as to why this spring you observed little decay. By November any moisture in the materials that you added may have quickly frozen and thus be unavailable.

2). Related to the above, you should construct your pile in layers. Put in whatever you want to compost, water it well, then put in some more materials, water, and so on.

3). Bacteria need a source of nitrogen in order to decompose things. Addition of a good nitrogen source to your compost pile is very important. This can be done by adding a 10-10-10 fertilizer or ammonium sulfate. Again as you build your pile in layers, to each layer add this nitrogen
source. Doing this will greatly speed up the decomposition process.

4). Starting a compost late in the season would certainly slow things down.

5). Egg shells can be composted. In fact they will provide a good source of calcium. Crushing the egg shells before composting will hasten their decomposition.

6). Successful composting requires that its contents get "stirred up" every two or three weeks. Not only will this refresh things, but it will also aerate the pile. Obviously this was not possible during the winter months. This, too, would have slowed the whole process.

At this time I would sprinkle 10-10-10 or ammonium sulfate on top of your pile and work it in. Then put a hose (no nozzle) on top of the pile and let it run for at least 30 minutes. In the absence of rain, water the pile every couple of weeks, turing things over at the same time.

I am very confident that if you do all these things, by the end of this summer you will have the dirt that you wish. This dirt may be low in various nutrients (the bacteria used them all up) so before adding it to your gardens, enrich it with some more 10-10-10 fertilizer. Some folks like to screen their compost dirt before using it to remove large sticks, etc.

You may want to look at the following site:

http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/soils/backyard-composting-guide/

Good Luck!!

Thank you Steve. We will add more layers and do the things you suggested.
I meant to say that we added things to the compost pile all spring and summer 2017 up until November, not starting in November . Should we stop earlier?

If you had had an active compost pile during the 2017 summer, then adding materials during the fall should have shown some decomposition. Therefore I wonder how much decomposition had been going on during the 2017 summer months. If you had not kept the compost pile moist, or did not turn things over from time to time, and/or had not added a nitrogen source during these summer months, then maybe not much decomposition was occurring. I have a very sophisticated way of telling if my compost pile is active: I put my hand in it. If decomposition is occurring you should feel consider warmth. Things may even feel hot. Again if you keep your pile moist, turn things over, and provide nitrogen, I am again confident that you will have some good compost by the end of the summer. Don't forget to test it in the manner that I described.

Good Luck!!

I never thought of touching it for heat. And all of your thoughts about last summer are right. We are ready to try again. Thank you!

Good luck with your compost pile. It is a fun project for gardeners.