Thursday, December 17, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Help For Compost Problems

So you've started your compost and it's doing great, Awesome! But you have a few issues or it's not going as great as expected. That's okay too. Let's take a minute or two to talk about problems and their fixes so you can get your compost back on track.

The first one on my list of questions we are asked deals with a the pile has a horrible smell. It could be a rotting smell or an ammonia type smell

The rotting smell is the most common, generally what we see is that there has been a large amount of kitchen scraps added to the pile and they are starting to rot, not decompose, there is a difference, the main issue is that the scraps were thrown into pile in a bunch, not chopped or there wasn't a corresponding amount of dry added at the same time. This one is a fairly easy fix. We recommend adding leaves or straw and mix the pile well. This relates to another issue we hear about, flies or other bugs. They are attracted by the smell and should move on to greener pastures as soon as the stirring is complete.

An Ammonia smell relates to too much nitrogen in your pile. This can come from too much fresh manure being added to the pile or too much of green matter such as a large load of grass clippings that are bunched up. Again go ahead and add brown materials to the pile and then stir generously.

If it's not wastes that are creating the stench it could be that there has been just too much water lately. We suggest the same as above, especially the  mixing it could help to allow some of the water to seep through, since it seems to be holded up into the pile. If your region gets high amounts of rain, be sure that any open pile you create is raised up off the ground, such as on pallets or small logs so that the rain can drain easily and not just pool in the bottom of the pile making a soggy mess.

The second contender is related to the problem above, the pile is just too wet and often this results in a slimy mess.  The best way to get back on track is add dry or absorbent materials, such as leaves, turn it more often so that there is air for the microbes to work.

Then there is the opposite problem the pile is just too dry. This is a problem that is easy to combat, just use a nozzle that will give you a rain effect and wet the pile down. It should only be moist and not saturated with water. As we talked about above, too much water causes it's own problems.

The next to last problem is that something is invading your pile. If you turn over the top layer as you start to stir your pile and you see itty bitty bugs that look like armadillos, we call them roly polys down here but they are actually pill or sow bugs. Pill bugs roll up into a ball hence the name and sow bugs don't. They aren't hurting the compost, but they aren't a good additive to your garden, they enjoy new roots and grow a bit too much to be welcome additions. Once you are ready to use your compost and you find you have they guys still you can spread your compost on a tarp in a sunny area and they will move along to cooler climates. No harm no foul. I admit to being a huge fan of "Roly Polys" so I do my best to help them when I Hey some kids just love bugs and we never grow out of it..

Another insect could be ants, in this case your compost is too dry, back to the water you go, they will move on once the pile is a bit moist.

Flies, gnats and fruit flies love spoiled foods, if you are having a flying problem make sure that you aren't just dumping food waste into your pile with out a corresponding dry or brown cover. A handful of soil works wonders.

If your invaders are a bit larger, possums, skunks or raccoons, depending on your area perhaps even a bear, you need to know that they aren't after your compost, they are after the treats hidden within. Tasty fruits, fresh veggies or even meat in some climates. If the problem has just started you can try mixing these items with something like ash or dirt, so they aren't as attractive. If it's an on going problem, the best bet is to convert to a closed system with a lid, so the buffet is closed. Unless it's raccoons, I swear we have some that can get the lid off the trash faster than I can.

One last thing you may see in your compost is volunteer plants, this could be good or bad. Tomatoes and squash are famous for this at our house, these we go ahead and transplant if they are in good shape. If it's a weed, we pull it, break it up or chop it and put it back in the pile.

Are these all the problems  or answers you could possibly run into probably not but hopefully it will get your compost moving back in the right direction. Every region is different and the are issues we have run into on our own or at other local composts. Check with your local Master Gardeners or Ag office for more info.

I hope the last few weeks of compost talk has encouraged you to try your hand at composting, big or small it makes a difference in your garden, the local landfill and the environment. It doesn't take a lot of work, can be done cheaply and the results can be very beneficial.

Check back next week for my last compost post, I'll give you one more idea of what to do with your compost....Make TEA!

Thanks for visiting with us!