Challenges of Composting: 7 Common Problems + How to Avoid Them

A person composting

So you started composting as a way to make sure your food waste wasn’t just wasted, but you are running into some problems. Maybe your compost is smelling terrible or it doesn’t seem to be breaking down all of those food scraps you are adding. Don’t panic! We are here to help you diagnose common composting problems and what you can do to avoid them. If you are new to composting be sure to check out our beginner's guide to composting for how to get started.

Composting might seem super simple, but it does require a little more work than just throwing food scraps onto a pile or into a bin and walking away. Whether you are a beginner to composting or have been doing it for a while you will most likely run into some of these common compost problems at some point. We are here to help you diagnose and fix your compost pile so you can be well on your way to nutrient-rich soil that will help your plants thrive! Here are the topics we are going to cover to get you on the road to finished compost in no time:

If after reading this guide you are still too overwhelmed with a traditional compost system, maybe you should consider buying a Lomi composter to simplify the process. Now let’s get into some of the common composting challenges you might run into and how to fix them!


7 common composting problems & challenges you might face

There are a few different problems you might run into when working with compost. You can’t just toss everything in a heap and call it a day. Sure the food will decompose eventually, but you want to have a balanced pile that will give you an endless supply of black gold! 

You have to have the right balance of greens and browns (don’t worry we’ll talk about that) and your pile can’t be too wet, or too dry, but has to be just right. Don’t feel overwhelmed! Follow our simple tips to fix any challenges you are presented with and you will be on your way to having usable compost in no time!


1. Too much moisture

Wet compost

You might notice you have soggy compost and it’s starting to stink. You want your compost to be fine and crumbly and smell earthy, not rotten. Excess moisture can cause flies, and odors, and produce substances that are harmful to your plants. Excess moisture is usually caused by adding too many greens like veggie scraps and grass clippings. This turns your pile anaerobic which means your pile is not getting enough oxygen. 

If your pile is too wet and not getting enough oxygen this creates an environment that benefits the harmful microbes that create that disgusting smell. The problem with compost that is anaerobic is that it interrupts, and slows down, or if it's bad enough it can stop the composting process!  

Tips to overcome this: To fix wet compost, start by turning your compost pile or compost bin to incorporate more air. After turning, add more browns to your compost such as sawdust, straw, shredded cardboard, or even scrunched-up newspaper.


 


 

2. It’s too dry

gardener touching dry leaves

In contrast to a too wet compost pile, your pile can also get too dry. This happens when you are adding too many browns or dry materials like sawdust, cardboard, or dry leaves and can result in the decomposition process stopping. This means the bacteria and fungi in your compost pile can't work effectively. You want your compost to have just enough moisture so that it’s the perfect environment for those beneficial microbes to do their work. You want your compost to be about as wet as a damp but wrung-out washcloth.

Tips to overcome this: One way to overcome this issue is to evenly re-wet your compost pile. You can also boost your dry compost pile is to add lots of fresh materials, like kitchen scraps, to even things out. 


3. It’s attracting pests

A mouse next to a bowl

Even if your compost pile has the right amount of moisture and correct nitrogen ratio you are probably going to run into pests. These can be bugs like fruit flies, fungus gnats, pill bugs, or sow bugs. While some bugs are normal, like fruit flies and gnats, it's important to keep them in check so they don't damage your plants. Fungus gnats can cause root damage to your plants and stunt their growth. 

An uncovered compost pile can also mean bigger pests like raccoons who will drag the decomposing food across your yard! Nobody wants to walk around their yard picking up rotting food.

Tips to overcome this: A great option to keep pests out of your compost is using the Lomi electric composter to handle your scraps! It breaks down food scraps and bioplastics quickly and you won’t have a pile of compost that will attract pests!

 

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4. It isn’t the right temperature

thermometer in the ground

 The ideal temperature of a compost pile is between 140°F (60°C) and 160°F (71°C). You can use a compost thermometer to check your pile's temperature. You want a hot pile to get your pile cooking so it can break down all of the material you've added. If your temperature is low, your pile may be too dry or low in nitrogen. Alternatively, you don't want your pile too high (160°F (71°C) or higher). Temperatures that are too high will kill off all of those beneficial microorganisms in your compost.

Another reason your compost might not be getting hot enough is that your pile is too small. You want your compost to have a certain surface-to-volume ratio. it's recommended to have a bin or pile that is approximately 3 feet high and 3 feet on each side when you start it.

Tips to overcome this: To fix low temperatures and replenish nitrogen in your compost piles add nitrogen-rich materials such as fresh grass clippings, weeds from your garden, kitchen scraps, or manure. To lower the temperature, give it a good stir! If you suspect it's the size of your pile, collect a mix of greens and browns and make your pile the recommended size.


5. Grass clippings

Grass clippings in a wheelbarrow

When you mow your lawn you are left with a bunch of grass clippings. You don’t just want to throw them all away so you decide to add them to your compost. While you may be tempted to toss the thick layers of grass into your compost bin, don't! This could make your compost a soggy mess and we know what happens when our compost gets too soggy. Not only are greens like this likely to add more moisture, but greens are nitrogen-rich materials and too much green material can throw your compost off your nitrogen balance.

Tips to overcome this: Sprinkle your cut grass in thin layers and balance it out with dry materials. If you have extra clippings you can use them as mulch around trees and bushes.


6. It smells bad

woman holding her nose

Is your compost putting off a smell that makes you want to plug your nose and stay as far away as possible? There are two possible types of smells your nose might be picking up: ammonia or rotten eggs. While these are two very different smells and each has a different solution, both can be easily fixed! 

If you are noticing a distinct ammonia smell your pile is telling you that it has too much nitrogen. Remember you need to maintain the nitrogen-carbon balance. This is most likely because you have added too many green materials and need to balance them out. If your compost smells like rotten eggs and you have a lot of flies hanging around your compost heap, your pile has gone anaerobic and needs some oxygen!

Tips to overcome this: To fix excess nitrogen, you can add in some absorbent materials such as straw or brown leaves. For compost that has gone anaerobic, look for areas of food scraps that are clumped together, give your pile a good turn and break up any clumps as you go.


7. You can’t turn it

A woman turning compost

To ensure you have a hot pile, experts recommend turning your compost piles at least twice a month or as often as twice a week to keep it in that ideal 140°F (60°C) and 160°F (71°C) temperature range. It can be quite an undertaking to go out and flip your compost pile, especially if it's relatively large. Many of us don't have the time or energy to go out and turn such a pile and so it helps to build the compost pile or compost bin the right way from the start.

Tips to overcome this: Make sure all your compost materials are as shredded as you can get them before adding them to your pile and mix them well. If you can't do this, alternate your brown materials with your green stuff and throw in some garden soil. You also might want to look into an electric kitchen composter or a tumbler that takes the heavy lifting off of your shoulders.


 


 

Top 5 composting mistakes & how to avoid them

A compost bin with contents spilling out

The composting process can be a great way to take the garbage off of your to-do list and turn it into nutrient-rich soil. While the composting process isn't overly complicated, there are still some possible composting mistakes you might run into. Here are some simple solutions to five common composting mistakes.

  1. Only Using One Compost Bin or Pile: it's best to have two bins or two compost piles, but a three-bin system is ideal. This way while one bin or pile is maturing, you can keep adding to the second and have one pile that is ready for use.
  2. Incorrect Ratio of Browns and Greens: You need both brown and green plant matter in your compost to create the right carbon and nitrogen ratio. This ratio should be 3 parts brown to 1 part green to make sure you have enough carbon and nitrogen for the decomposition process.
  3. Composting the Wrong Materials: Animal-based food scraps (meat, dairy, etc.) should not be added to your compost because they smell as they decompose and attract pests. We have a great guide on what to compost that can help you figure out what to compost.
  4. Not Aerating Your Pile: To ensure your pile gets adequate oxygen you should stir or poke the pile two times a week or at least two times a month. You can also use a compost tumbler to make this task easier.
  5. Constantly Adding to Your Compost: Continually adding to your pile or bin means you'll never have mature compost. You should have at least two piles or bins (three is the magic number!) at a time so that you can have one finished compost, one to add to, and one that is ready to go.

Prevent problems with composting by using Lomi

woman chopping veggies next to a Lomi

Don’t get overwhelmed by the challenges you might face while composting. You can avoid many of these challenges by using an electric composter. These kitchen appliances can fit right on your counter and turn your food and organic matter into nutrient-dense dirt in a matter of hours, not weeks or months! The Lomi electric composter, for example, can break down scraps and approved bioplastics quickly and can be used year-round. Using the Lomi is super simple and takes one more thing off of your daily to-do list!

The Lomi uses heat and humidity to create the perfect environment for microbes to decompose organic matter. No need to worry about smell or flying pests, moisture levels, nitrogen-carbon ratios, and you don't have to turn a pile! Let Lumi do the hard work for you! The end result is nutrient-rich dirt that you can use in a variety of ways. Check out our list of 8 easy things to do with your homemade dirt! Still not convinced? Check out what others are saying about the Lomi here.


Composting can be a rewarding way to turn your food scraps into nutrient-rich soil. Your food waste doesn't need to be wasted! Whether you already have a compost (pile, bin, or a kitchen composter like Lomi) or you are looking to start one, it's important to know how to diagnose your compost and how to handle to fix any issues that arise. If you are looking for a simple, stress-free way to compost, a kitchen composter could be exactly what you need! No matter how you choose to compost, it's one way that you can do good for the planet!


Written by: Sarah Kendal