Troubleshooting Common Composting Issues And How To Solve Them

Composting is an excellent way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for gardening. However, it’s not uncommon to encounter some challenges along the way. In this article, we will discuss common composting issues and provide troubleshooting tips to help you overcome them effectively.

Composting is a natural process that decomposes organic materials and turns them into nutrient-rich humus. It is an environmentally friendly way to manage kitchen scraps, yard waste, and other biodegradable materials. While composting is generally straightforward, there are times when issues arise, causing frustration for beginners and experienced composters alike. Let’s delve into some common problems and explore solutions to ensure successful composting.

Understanding Composting

Before we delve into troubleshooting, it’s essential to understand the basics of composting. Composting requires a mix of organic materials, including green and brown components.

Green materials are rich in nitrogen and include items like vegetable scraps and grass clippings. Brown materials, on the other hand, are carbon-rich and encompass dry leaves, wood chips, and straw. These materials, when combined in the right proportions, create an ideal environment for beneficial microbes to break them down into compost.

Common Composting Issues

Slow Composting Process

A slow composting process can be frustrating, but it’s usually caused by an imbalance of green and brown materials, inadequate aeration, or insufficient moisture. Here are some troubleshooting tips to address this issue:

  1. Check the balance of green and brown materials: Composting requires a proper balance of nitrogen-rich green materials and carbon-rich brown materials. If your compost is slow to decompose, assess the ratio of green to brown. Ideally, aim for a mix of approximately 3 parts brown to 1 part green. Adjust the proportions by adding more greens or browns as needed.
  2. Improve aeration: Proper aeration is crucial for compost decomposition. Lack of oxygen can slow down the process. To improve aeration:
    • Turn the compost pile regularly: Use a pitchfork or compost turning tool to mix the materials, ensuring that oxygen reaches all parts of the pile.
    • Incorporate bulky materials: Add coarse materials like twigs or straw to create air pockets and allow better airflow within the compost pile.
  3. Monitor moisture levels: Compost should be moist but not soggy. Excessive moisture can lead to compaction and slow down decomposition. Insufficient moisture can hinder microbial activity. To maintain optimal moisture levels:
    • Check the moisture content: Squeeze a handful of compost. It should feel like a damp sponge. If it’s too dry, add water; if it’s too wet, add dry brown materials to absorb excess moisture.
    • Cover the compost pile: Use a tarp or cover to protect the pile from heavy rain, which can oversaturate it. This cover will also help retain moisture during dry periods.

Unpleasant Odors

Unpleasant odors emanating from the compost pile are often a result of poor aeration or excessive moisture. Here are some troubleshooting tips to combat odors:

  1. Improve aeration: Lack of oxygen in the compost pile can lead to anaerobic conditions and foul smells. Enhance aeration by:
    • Turning the compost regularly: Mix the materials to introduce oxygen and promote aerobic decomposition.
    • Incorporating bulky, coarse materials: Add twigs or straw to create air pockets and improve airflow within the pile.
  2. Avoid adding certain materials: Certain items can contribute to foul odors. Avoid adding meat, dairy products, oily materials, or pet waste, as they are prone to decomposing anaerobically and generating unpleasant smells.
  3. Add carbon-rich materials: If the compost remains smelly, add dry, carbon-rich materials like straw, shredded newspaper, or dried leaves. These materials help absorb excess moisture and neutralize odors.

By ensuring proper aeration, avoiding odor-causing materials, and adding carbon-rich materials when needed, you can keep your compost pile smelling fresh and pleasant.

Pests and Insects

Encountering pests and insects in your compost pile is normal, as they assist in the decomposition process. However, if you’re experiencing an infestation or attracting unwanted critters, here’s what you can do:

  1. Keep the compost covered: Use a secure lid or cover the compost pile with a tarp to discourage pests from entering. This will also help regulate moisture levels and temperature.
  2. Avoid adding certain materials: Some food waste, such as meat, fish, or dairy products, can attract pests. Avoid adding these items to your compost pile. Stick to vegetable scraps, fruit peels, and yard waste.
  3. Consider adding deterrents: To deter insects, you can sprinkle wood ash or diatomaceous earth (food-grade) over the compost. These substances act as natural repellents and help keep pests at bay.

Remember that a healthy compost pile with proper balance and maintenance will naturally attract beneficial organisms and minimize pest-related issues.

Excessive Moisture

Excessive moisture can lead to a soggy compost pile, inhibiting the decomposition process. Here’s how to address this issue:

  1. Check the balance of green and brown materials: An imbalance of green and brown materials can contribute to excess moisture. Ensure a proper mix of nitrogen-rich greens and carbon-rich browns to maintain the right moisture level.
  2. Provide adequate drainage: Ensure your compost bin or pile has proper drainage to prevent water from accumulating. If necessary, adjust the location or make drainage holes in the bin.
  3. Add dry materials: If the compost becomes too wet, add dry brown materials like straw, shredded newspaper, or dried leaves. These materials will help absorb excess moisture and restore balance.
  4. Regular turning: Turning the compost pile helps improve aeration and moisture distribution. Regularly turn the pile using a pitchfork or compost turning tool to promote drying and prevent waterlogged conditions.

By addressing the balance of materials, ensuring proper drainage, adding dry materials, and turning the pile regularly, you can manage excessive moisture and maintain an optimal composting environment.

Compost Not Breaking Down

If your compost pile is not breaking down efficiently, it may be due to insufficient nitrogen, inadequate aeration, or the presence of woody materials that take longer to decompose. Here are some troubleshooting tips to help:

  1. Add more nitrogen-rich greens: Insufficient nitrogen can slow down the composting process. Add more nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps, or coffee grounds to provide the necessary fuel for decomposition.
  2. Improve aeration: Inadequate aeration can impede decomposition. Turn the compost pile regularly to ensure oxygen reaches all parts of the pile. This will invigorate the microbial activity and speed up the breakdown process.
  3. Shred or chip woody materials: Woody materials like branches or twigs can take longer to decompose. Consider shredding or chipping them before adding to the compost pile. Smaller pieces break down faster, facilitating the overall decomposition process.

By increasing the nitrogen content, enhancing aeration, and addressing woody materials, you can promote a more efficient breakdown of compost materials.


Composting is a rewarding endeavor that provides numerous benefits for the environment and your garden. By understanding common composting issues and troubleshooting them effectively, you can ensure a successful composting experience.

Remember to maintain a balance of green and brown materials, provide adequate aeration and moisture, and address any problems promptly. With perseverance and proper techniques, you’ll transform your organic waste into nutrient-rich compost that will nourish your plants.


Q: How long does it take for compost to be ready?

A: The time required for compost to be ready can vary depending on several factors, such as the materials used, climate, and composting methods. Generally, it takes anywhere from a few months to a year for compost to fully mature.

Q: Can I compost meat and dairy products?

A: It’s best to avoid composting meat and dairy products, as they can attract pests and produce unpleasant odors. Stick to vegetable scraps, fruit peels, and yard waste for optimal composting.

Q: Should I add worms to my compost pile?

A: Adding worms, specifically red wigglers (Eisenia fetida), to your compost pile can help speed up the decomposition process. Worms break down organic matter efficiently and produce nutrient-rich castings, also known as vermicompost.

Q: Can I compost weeds and invasive plants?

A: While it’s possible to compost weeds and invasive plants, it’s essential to handle them correctly. Make sure to remove any seed heads or reproductive parts and avoid adding weeds that spread through rhizomes or underground roots.

Q: Is it necessary to turn the compost pile?

A: Turning the compost pile helps aerate it, facilitating the breakdown of organic materials. It also helps distribute moisture evenly and prevents the formation of anaerobic conditions. Regular turning can significantly speed up the composting process.