What Should I Do If My Compost Shows Signs of Trouble? 10 Simple Steps

Have you ever asked the question, “What should I do if my compost shows signs of trouble?” Whether it’s a funky odor, unwanted pests, or slow decomposition, dealing with compost issues can be overwhelming. In this article, we will explore some common problems that arise with composting and provide practical tips on how to handle them effectively. So, if you’re ready to tackle any compost mishap that comes your way, read on to find out what steps you can take to keep your compost thriving and odor-free.

What Should I Do If My Compost Shows Signs of Trouble?

Composting is a fantastic way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. However, sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned, and you may encounter some issues with your compost. Don’t worry, though! In this comprehensive guide, we will go through all the steps you can take to troubleshoot and maintain a healthy compost pile. So let’s get started and ensure you are on your way to composting success!

What Should I Do If My Compost

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What should I do if my compost shows signs of trouble?” This question resonates with both seasoned gardeners and enthusiastic beginners alike. Composting, the eco-friendly practice of converting organic waste into nutrient-rich soil, offers a plethora of benefits. However, it’s not uncommon for compost piles to encounter challenges that might leave you scratching your head. From perplexing odors wafting through the air to unwelcome pests setting up camp in your compost, these issues can indeed be disheartening. But fear not, as we delve into the depths of compost troubleshooting, equipping you with the knowledge and strategies you need to triumph over these hurdles.

Common Problems in Composting: Composting is a delicate dance between organic matter, microbes, and environmental conditions. Yet, even in the most carefully managed compost setups, issues can arise. One telltale sign that things are amiss is the emergence of an unpleasant odor. A foul stench can indicate an imbalance in the compost’s carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, urging you to adjust the mixture by adding dry, carbon-rich materials like leaves or paper.

Unwanted visitors, ranging from insects to rodents, are another challenge that can plague your compost haven. While compost piles provide a buffet of decaying matter, certain creatures can disrupt the process and introduce potential health hazards. In response, consider turning the pile more frequently, burying new additions deeper, or employing natural repellents to discourage these interlopers.

Slow decomposition, a concern that can test the patience of any composter, often stems from insufficient aeration or incorrect moisture levels. A compacted pile lacking airflow can hinder the work of decomposition-driven microorganisms. To rejuvenate the process, aerate the pile by turning it and incorporating bulky materials to create passages for air circulation.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at 10 simple ways you can answer the question, “What should I do if my compost shows signs of trouble?”

1. Monitor the Temperature

One of the essential factors for a successful compost pile is maintaining the right temperature. Ideally, your compost should be warm, between 120 and 160°F (49 and 71°C). This temperature range ensures the decomposition process happens efficiently, killing weed seeds and harmful pathogens. If your compost pile is not reaching or maintaining this temperature, there are a few things you can do.

First, check the moisture level of your compost. Adequate moisture is crucial for microbes to do their job effectively. If your compost is too dry, consider adding water to bring it to the right moisture level. On the other hand, if your compost is too wet, it may become sluggish and begin to smell. In this case, turning the pile and adding some brown materials, such as dry leaves or wood chips, can help absorb excess moisture and balance the pile.

2. Adjust the Moisture Level

As mentioned earlier, moisture plays a vital role in the composting process. The moisture content should be similar to that of a wrung-out sponge. If your compost seems too dry, it won’t break down effectively. On the other hand, if it becomes too wet, it may become sludgy and produce an unpleasant odor.

To adjust the moisture level, you can add water or dry materials accordingly. If it’s too dry, gently water the pile with a hose or watering can, ensuring it is evenly distributed. If it’s too wet, add dry brown materials like straw or shredded newspaper to absorb the excess moisture. Remember, maintaining the right moisture level is fundamental to keeping your compost pile thriving.

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3. Properly Mix the Materials

To achieve composting success, it’s crucial to properly mix the materials in your compost pile. This helps to create the right balance of carbon-rich materials (known as browns) and nitrogen-rich materials (known as greens). Browns include items such as dried leaves, straw, and cardboard, while greens consist of items like fruit scraps, vegetable peels, and grass clippings.

To ensure efficient decomposition, it’s important to layer these materials rather than simply dumping them in one big pile. Start with a layer of browns, then add a layer of greens, and continue alternating until you’ve used up all your compostable materials. This layering technique helps with airflow, creating an environment that facilitates microbial activity and decomposition.

4. Turn the Compost Pile

Turning your compost pile is a crucial step that promotes aeration and helps break down the materials more effectively. By turning the pile, you’re mixing the outer, less decomposed materials with the inner, more decomposed ones, creating a balanced environment for decomposition to occur.

Aim to turn the pile at least once every one to two weeks, using a pitchfork or shovel. This simple action allows oxygen to reach the microbes and speeds up the decomposition process. Remember, the more frequently you turn the pile, the faster you’ll have finished compost ready for use in your garden.

What Should I Do If My Compost

5. Add Browns: Balancing Moisture and Odor Control

The art of composting is a delicate equilibrium, and when the harmony of your compost pile is disrupted by excessive moisture or unpleasant odors, the solution often lies in the strategic incorporation of brown materials. Browns, known for their carbon-rich composition, play a pivotal role in counterbalancing the nitrogen-rich greens, fostering a harmonious composting environment.

Imagine browns as the architects of your composting project. They contribute structure and stability, preventing the pile from becoming a soggy, malodorous mess. When your compost appears too wet, browns act as sponges, absorbing excess moisture and restoring the ideal moisture content for microbial activity.

Embrace a medley of brown sources, each adding its unique texture and character to the composition. Dry leaves, nature’s gift in abundance during the fall season, are an excellent brown resource. Their gentle rustling presence introduces not only carbon but also a sense of auburn nostalgia to your composting stage. Wood chips, a sturdy addition, create pathways for air circulation, vital for preventing anaerobic decomposition that generates unpleasant smells.

Straw, often synonymous with idyllic farms and pastoral landscapes, adds a rustic charm to the composting process. Shredded cardboard and newspaper, transformed from written words into supporting actors, embody versatility, contributing to both structure and carbon content. Regularly interweave these browns into your compost tale, particularly after the influx of nitrogen-rich greens, to maintain a captivating carbon-to-nitrogen ratio that keeps your compost pile’s narrative compelling and odor-free.

6. Add Greens: Fueling Microbial Activity

In the theatrical production of composting, greens take on the role of energizers, the force that propels the microbial cast into action. Just as actors bring a script to life, greens breathe vitality into your compost pile, enabling the microorganisms to transform the organic matter into the black gold of gardening.

These nitrogen-rich protagonists include kitchen scraps that hold the remnants of your culinary endeavors. Fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, tea leaves—these remnants of sustenance provide not only nourishment for your body but also sustenance for the unseen organisms orchestrating the composting symphony. When you notice the tempo of decomposition lagging or detect a displeasing scent, these cues signify a call for more greens on stage.

Chop these kitchen actors into smaller segments before introducing them to the pile. This prelude, akin to actors rehearsing their lines, accelerates the breakdown process, allowing the microbes to feast more efficiently. Rapid decomposition not only minimizes unwanted aromas but also facilitates a quicker transformation of waste into the valuable soil amendment your garden craves.

Just as actors’ chemistry enhances the dynamics of a performance, the interplay between browns and greens fortifies your composting narrative. Strive for equilibrium, as the marriage of these elements mirrors the delicate balance that governs the natural world. By mastering the art of introducing greens, you not only catalyze the composting process but also cultivate a profound connection with the unseen actors shaping the cycles of life beneath the surface.

What Should I Do If My Compost

7. Cover the Compost Pile: Shielding Nature’s Transformation

Envision your compost pile as a living laboratory where nature’s alchemy transforms waste into valuable nourishment for the earth. Just as a laboratory requires controlled conditions, your compost pile thrives when sheltered from the caprices of weather and the prying eyes of pests. Covering this laboratory of transformation holds several keys to success, unveiling a host of benefits that safeguard your composting endeavors.

At the forefront, the cover serves as a vigilant guardian of moisture balance. Excessive rainfall, while vital to the earth, can saturate your compost, retarding decomposition and possibly washing away precious nutrients. Similarly, relentless sunlight can lead to rapid evaporation, leaving your compost parched and lethargic. By draping a protective layer over your compost pile, you orchestrate a harmonious dance of moisture preservation, preventing both saturation and drought.

During the ballet of the seasons, the compost pile’s temperature becomes a critical factor. Just as a conductor orchestrates the tempo of a symphony, you can control the temperature within the compost pile by providing a cozy cover. In colder months, the cover acts as a snug blanket, retaining the warmth generated by microbial activity. This thermal embrace ensures that even as winter’s chill creeps in, the microbial ensemble continues their transformative masterpiece.

Unwanted intruders—such as rodents seeking shelter and sustenance—are a reality in the world of composting. By adorning your compost pile with a protective layer, you establish a formidable barrier, discouraging these interlopers from making a home within. Whether you choose a tarp, old carpet, or a layer of straw and leaves, ensure its secure fastening against the elements.

As you nurture your compost, lift the curtain of the cover periodically to assess the moisture levels and temperature beneath. This interactive approach allows you to fine-tune the conditions, ensuring that your composting stage is always set for an encore performance of nature’s remarkable transformation.

8. Avoid Certain Materials: Compost-Wise Choices

The composting stage welcomes a myriad of players, but even in this inclusive theater, a few actors are best left off the script. Consider these exclusions not as limitations, but as prudent measures that preserve the harmony and effectiveness of the composting symphony.

Meat, dairy products, and oily foods—while delectable to the palate—are less appealing to the composting microbial ensemble. These items not only attract unwelcome visitors like rodents but also decompose slowly, generating unpleasant odors that can overpower the compost’s natural fragrance.

Pet waste, while biodegradable, often carries pathogens that pose health risks. These unwelcome actors can disrupt the microbial ensemble and introduce harmful substances into your compost, which may later find their way into your garden.

In this creative endeavor, diseased or insect-infested plants find no place on the composting stage. Composting temperatures may not always eliminate the pathogens or insects, potentially transferring them into your garden soil when using the compost.

Weeds, while symbols of nature’s resilience, can be formidable contenders in the composting arena. However, exercise caution. Weeds with mature seeds may survive the composting process, sprouting anew when you apply the finished compost in your garden.

By adhering to these guidelines, you craft a cast of composting ingredients that dance in harmonious synergy, eschewing potential pitfalls and embracing a productive, efficient, and ecologically sound composting narrative.

What Should I Do If My Compost

9.  Troubleshoot the Issues

In the intricate dance of composting, there are times when despite our most diligent efforts, challenges arise within our compost piles. But worry not, for these stumbling blocks—whether they manifest as pesky aromas, the persistent presence of fruit flies, or the gradual pace of decomposition—can be transformed into opportunities for growth with just a few well-informed adjustments.

Tackling Foul Odors: The unexpected waft of unpleasant odors can be disheartening, yet it’s often an indicator that your compost pile is communicating with you, seeking a better balance. For the olfactory offense that arises, consider the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio—the heart of compost harmony. Insufficient browns in the mix can lead to an overabundance of nitrogen-rich materials, which in turn foster odorous conditions.

To bring equilibrium back to your compost’s aromatic symphony, introduce more browns. These carbon-rich materials, like dried leaves, straw, or newspaper, work as harmonizing notes, neutralizing the excess nitrogen. As you layer in the browns, the compost’s olfactory performance will harmonize, and any unpleasant notes will gradually fade away.

Banishing Fruit Flies: Nature’s cleanup crew, fruit flies, are drawn to the banquet of kitchen scraps within your compost. Yet, their presence need not steal the spotlight from your composting efforts. If these tiny performers begin to upstage your compost’s act, you can take simple yet effective steps to dim their limelight.

Ensure kitchen scraps are tucked deeper into the pile—this backstage maneuver makes it less likely for fruit flies to steal the show. Moreover, balance is key; maintain moisture levels that are damp but not overly wet. Excessive moisture can provide a breeding ground for these intruders. By embracing these backstage guidelines, your compost pile will soon reclaim its spotlight, and the fruit flies will take their bows elsewhere.

Reviving Decomposition’s Tempo: In the grand theater of composting, slow decomposition is a challenging script to overcome. Yet, every composting magician knows that the key lies in orchestrating the right elements to quicken the pace of transformation. When the tempo falters, it’s time to take center stage with decisive actions.

Frequent turning becomes the protagonist here, introducing oxygen to fuel the microbial workforce within. This act facilitates their performance in breaking down materials and ensures that no one player becomes fatigued. Maintain a keen eye on moisture levels, akin to the conductor’s attention to the orchestra’s harmony. The compost pile’s moisture should resemble a well-tuned instrument—neither too dry nor too damp.

Just as a musical composition is a harmonious blend of various notes, a compost pile’s performance is enhanced by the dance between greens and browns. Maintain the equilibrium between nitrogen-rich greens and carbon-rich browns, and you’ll witness decomposition’s tempo quicken, bringing the curtain down on slow progress.

Through these orchestrated adjustments, you transform from a spectator to the conductor of a flourishing compost symphony. Foul odors, fruit flies, and sluggish decomposition—once perceived as disruptions—now become cues for your intervention, a chance to fine-tune the composting orchestra’s performance.

As you troubleshoot, adapt, and learn, your compost pile evolves into a masterpiece of renewal. The art of composting, much like a symphony, requires practice, precision, and a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all its elements. With each challenge conquered you become not only a compost connoisseur but also a custodian of the delicate balance that sustains life’s cycles. So let the composting symphony play on, with you as its guiding conductor, ensuring that every note, every scent, and every rhythm contributes to a harmonious, thriving compost pile.

10. Reap the Benefits

After following all these steps and making the necessary adjustments, it’s time to reap the rewards of your hard work! Compost that is ready to use will have a dark, crumbly texture and an earthy smell. It serves as an excellent soil amendment to improve plant growth, retain moisture, and enhance overall garden vitality.

Apply the compost to your garden beds, mix it into potting soil, or use it as a top dressing for your lawns. The benefits of using compost in your garden are endless, from increasing nutrient availability to improving soil structure and promoting beneficial microbial activity.

So, don’t be discouraged if your compost encounters some hiccups along the way. With monitoring, adjustments, and troubleshooting, you can maintain a healthy compost pile that will reward you with nutrient-rich soil for years to come. Happy composting!


In the grand symphony of composting, the occasional discordant note should not discourage you, but rather inspire a deeper connection with the natural rhythms at play. The question, “What should I do if my compost shows signs of trouble?” transforms from a source of anxiety into a catalyst for growth and understanding.

Embracing the principles of composting means embracing the essence of life itself—a process that embodies transformation, renewal, and the interdependence of all living things. As you navigate the challenges that may arise, remember that every setback holds a lesson. A compost pile that emits an unexpected odor or crawls with pests is not a failure, but a classroom where you can learn to balance the intricacies of nature’s chemistry.

Your compost pile, much like a garden, flourishes under your care and attention. Tending to it becomes an exercise in patience, observation, and innovation. Just as a skilled gardener adjusts watering schedules and amends soil composition, you too can fine-tune your composting routine to restore harmony.

When the scent of decay mingles with the sweetness of fresh growth, you know you’re on the right path. So, armed with knowledge and armed with resolve, you can troubleshoot any issue that arises. With each corrective action you take, you’re not just salvaging a compost pile, but cultivating a mindset that is attuned to the subtleties of the natural world.

In the end, “What should I do if my compost shows signs of trouble?” transforms from a mere question into an invitation—an invitation to explore, to learn, and to become a steward of the delicate dance of decomposition. So keep your hands in the soil, your eyes on the microorganisms working their magic, and your heart open to the lessons that composting teaches about resilience, adaptation, and the beauty of imperfection. Your compost pile, once troubled, will stand as a testament to your dedication and the remarkable journey of transformation that composting offers to all who dare to embark upon it.

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Sharron Nixon

Hi there! I'm Sharron, the face behind Composting Guru. I'm passionate about helping you discover and unlock the earth's secret recipe - composting. With our curated content, expert advice, and top-tier tools, I'm here to guide you in mastering the art of composting. Whether you're searching for the perfect composter or seeking tips on creating nutrient-rich compost, you've come to the right place. Together, we'll transform your waste into garden gold. Join me on this journey as we dive deep into the world of composting and unlock its true potential. Let's make the Earth thrive with Composting Guru!

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