Four-legged creatures have been visiting my
compost pile. What should I do?
sure you are not adding meat, dairy products or greasy
foods to your compost bin. Second, be sure to cover
any other food scraps with a layer of leaves, soil
or other brown material. Third, consider a rodent-resistant
compost bin like the Earth Machine. (available
locally from Green Waste Recovery, (800) 665- 2209).
For a low-cost solution, consider
modifying a garbage can for use as an animal-resistant
bin for composting food scraps. For information on
how to make and manage a garbage can composter, order
a copy of the "Homemade
Food Scrap Composter" flyer from the Rotline.
I've got bugs in my compost pile. What should
Absolutely nothing! Bugs, big and little, are what
make the decomposition happen. Here are some of the beneficial critters you may find. Tiny flies and ants
can be pesky (see following questions).
I’ve got millions
of tiny flies. What do I do?
The tiny flies
are vinegar flies, which look just like fruit flies.
To control them, or common black flies, cover your
food scraps with a light layer of soil, then a layer (2-4
inches) of brown material (leaves, straw or stripped
There are ants in my compost pile. What should
Large numbers of ants are usually an indication that
the pile is too dry. To encourage them to leave the
pile, moisten and turn it or stir it with a pitchfork
to disrupt their colonies. Put a sticky barrier (household
glue, sticky tape) on the handle of the pitchfork or
shovel you are using to make it more difficult for
the ants to crawl up the handle. After stirring the
pile, leave it alone for a time to give the ants a
chance to leave.
If there are many ants in your yard, they may return
to the compost pile. But take heart! Ants may actually
benefit the composting process by bringing fungi and
other organisms into their nests. The work of ants
can make compost richer in phosphorus and potassium
by moving minerals from one place to another.
What do I do if my compost pile is too dry?
Materials in your compost bin should be as moist as
a wrung-out sponge. When you squeeze a handful, no
more than one or two drops of moisture drip out, but
there should be sufficient moisture to hold the material
together in a ball. Piles that are exposed to the air
or the sun tend to dry out fairly rapidly. Try covering
the pile with a plastic tarp to retain moisture.
If your compost pile is too dry,
add water, but be sure to check if water is absorbed
into the pile or just shed as it hits the pile. Frequently,
watering a pile from above is ineffective because
dry materials shed water. In this case, turn
the pile by pulling it apart and restocking it, watering
If your pile is mainly composed of woody prunings,
it may need more fresh green materials to moisten it
and help it to retain moisture.
If you have a good balance of green
materials and brown materials in your bin, but you
did not add enough water originally, make a mental
note for next time. Remember
that the pile should be about 40 - 50% moisture — that's
a lot of water.
What do I do if my backyard compost pile smells
If the pile is compressed and lacks air space, turn
it or mix it with a pitchfork and add some twigs and
other materials that provide air space.
If the material is so wet that water drips out when
you squeeze a handful, add more dry brown materials,
like leaves, dried out weeds or soil, and mix thoroughly.
If it is realty wet, restock it completely and layer
it with dry brown materials that provide air space
to introduce air back into the pile. Loosen any clumps
that have matted together.
If the pile has an ammonia odor, you have too much
green material (grass clippings, food scraps, green
plant material) and not enough brown (dry leaves, woody
prunings, pine needles, dried out plants). Add more
brown material or soil.
If your compost includes succulent green materials
like grass clippings and food scraps, be sure to cover
them with a layer of leaves, dried out plants or weeds
or a layer of soil.
My compost isn't getting hot. Why?
Many compost piles hove too much brown material
(dry leaves, woody prunings) and not enough green material
(lawn clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, manure).
For a hot compost pile, brown materials must be shredded
with a mower or chipped. Piles made on an add-as-you-go
basis heat up very little, even if they are high
in green materials, as break down occurs incrementally.
You can help a cool pile to heat up by mixing in
blood meal, alfalfa hay, or horse or chicken manure.
The main advantage of a hot pile Is it composts faster
and kills weed seeds If temperatures are maintained
at 140 degrees F for three days. Remember, maintaining
a hot pile takes ongoing attention to aeration (turning),
moisture, and the balance of green and brown materials.
If you don't have the time or inclination
to maintain a hot pile, don't worry. Cold compost
piles break down too! They just take a bit longer.
I had a worm bin but my worms died. What did
I do wrong?
First of all, don't be discouraged. A worm
bin is a biological system and it may take more than
one try to get it right. The most common mistake is
improper bedding or letting the bedding material dry
out. It is very important to start with a four-inch
layer of good bedding. For best results, mix rotted
leaves with shredded paper. You can also add old compost
and/or hay. If you don't have any of these materials
handy, buy a block of compressed coconut fiber (sometimes
called coco-pith) at the nursery.
Bedding material must be as moist as a wrung out sponge.
Worm populations increase or decrease in direct proportion
to the amount of food they receive.
What is the absolute least amount of work
I can get away with for a compost pile?
you want to compost food scraps, there are two very
- Modify a garbage can with a
tight-fitting lid for use as an animal-resistant
bin for composting food scraps. All you need to
do is drill some holes in the bottom of the can
for drainage, set it in a shallow hole so animals
can’t tip it over, and cover
layers of fruit and vegetable scraps with a 2-4 inch
layer of brown leaves or soil to control fruit flies
and odors. Left alone, it will decompose in about
six months to a year.
- Alternatively, you can bury food waste in empty
spots in vegetable and flower gardens, where it will
decompose and nourish your plants.
If you just want to compost yard trimmings, choose
a spot at least 2 feet away from wooden structures
such as a fence or building. As you accumulate yard
wastes (not food), throw them on this pile- Turn your
compost pile only when you have time (or not at all!).
Try to keep the compost as wet as a wrung out sponge
(or just squirt it with water occasionally) The materials
will shrink in volume, and after six months to a year
the bottom part of your pile will be rich, crumbly