How to Avoid Common Composting Mistakes

Composting is the simple process of controlling the decomposition of organic materials so that they can be used as a soil amendment. Composting is so simple that in fact most composting guides are quick to reassure the reader that no matter what you do, organic material will rot anyway. However, there are still some mistakes that can be made in composting. These mistakes can lead to unpleasant odors, unwanted rodents and other pests, slow decomposition, and even health risks. To learn how to avoid common composting mistakes, ensure that you heed the following advice.


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    Avoid placing animal products into your compost pile. An easy composting mistake can be avoided by leaving fats, dairy, meat, and bones out of your compost. These materials will go rancid and generate unpleasant odors as well as attracting rodents and other unwanted animals to your compost. Meats and dairy also provide a breeding ground for harmful pathogens.
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    Ensure that the moisture level in your compost pile is ideal. Another common composting mistake is using too little or too much water in your compost pile. Ideally, a handful of your compost should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge - moist but not dripping.
    • If a compost pile has too little moisture, it will decompose very slowly because the bacteria and fungus need moisture to break down the materials. A dry compost pile can also attract ants and wasps, so add more water immediately if you see these insects proliferating.
    • If a compost pile is too wet, the microbial organisms in it will start reproducing anaerobically because the water has choked off their oxygen supply. This can be diagnosed by a foul ammonia-like smell.
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    Ensure that the ratio of carbon to nitrogen is ideal. Another composting mistake that can be made fairly easily is improperly adjusting the carbon to nitrogen ratio of the compost. Carbon-rich materials, including paper, dried leaves, and cardboard, should make up about 3/4 of the pile's volume. Nitrogen-rich materials, such as coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, and grass clippings, should comprise the remaining 25 percent.
    • If your compost has too little nitrogen, it will decompose very slowly. Unlike a compost pile with too little moisture, however, it will not necessarily attract ants and wasps.
    • If a compost pile has too little carbon, the excess nitrogen-rich materials will be metabolized anaerobically, generating an ammonia-like odor.
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    Avoid compacting your compost too densely. The bacteria and fungus that drive the decomposition need a continuous supply of fresh oxygen to do their work. This oxygen will be cut off if your compost pile is too dense, leading again to an ammonia-like odor. Loosen your compost with a pitchfork and add loose materials like tree branches to remedy this problem.
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    Do not purchase earthworms or inoculation kits for your compost. A composting mistake often made by newcomers is to purchase earthworms or microbial inoculation kits to get their compost piles going. These kits are essentially "snake oil," and are never needed to start or maintain a healthy compost pile. Native worms, bacteria, and fungus will be attracted to your compost pile from its very first day.


  • Of course, you should never place any non-organic material into your compost pile. Plastics and metals, for instance, will not decompose in your compost.

Things You'll Need

  • Water
  • Carbon-rich materials
  • Nitrogen-rich materials
  • Pitchfork

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Categories: Gardening