Troubleshoot a compost issue

Asked April 13, 2020, 12:16 PM EDT

Hello- I set up a unit I purchased from Metro. This is the third one I have owned and have been successful until now. It is located on a four unit property, five people total in the households. I realized when checking it that it has been overused and under maintained. Do I need to dig out the very wet mush and start over or can I add leaves, etc and turn it but not add any more kitchen waste while it recovers? It is roughly 25% full. In future I will be adding another/more units as I realize this meant for a single household. Thank you! Kathy H.

Washington County Oregon

3 Responses

Thank you for your question, Kathy. Successful composting requires 3 elements: the ‘right combination of carbon-based (“brown”) and nitrogen-rich (“green”) organic material; water; and air. The mush you see is composted (‘rotted’) organic material, and can be mixed successfully with ‘new’ scraps, yard debris and—most importantly—more carbon-based matter such as newspapers, cardboard (w/o labels, tape or reinforcing plastic strands) and junk mail (!) Here is a Metro page on this, along with links to other helpful sites: And one from OSU: The challenge of multi-family composting is that all families need to follow the rules, and often can use some education. I am also a Master Recycler, and do presentations in the metro area. If you would like a presentation, email me post-epidemic and I’m happy to help. Good luck!

Thank you, Kristena. That was helpful, I knew about newspaper but not cardboard. Should the newsprint be put through a shredder and what size for the cardboard is recommended? Also can worms be added now or should I wait until it is back to “normal”? And wondering how much brown to add.

Thanks again.

Kathy H.

You can just tear the newspaper into shreds, but the smaller, the more quickly it decomposes. Ditto with cardboard, and it tears and decomposes better if it is soaked in water and then torn. The worms mentioned in the materials are a ‘special’ variety known as ‘red wrigglers,’. They do not burrow into the soil, but live amidst the decomposing material, eating the microbes that do all the work bacteria, fungi, nematodes, protozoa, etc.). But, they have a temperature range from 40 - 70 degrees, so may not survive our winters and summers. I suggest you perfect your composting behavior first, and you may find that they will gather naturally to help with the process.