Frequently Asked Questions

Outdoor/Backyard Composting

  1. Four-legged animals have been visiting my compost. What should I do?
  2. There are bugs in my compost pile. What should I do?
  3. A million tiny flies are surrounding my compost. What should I do?
  4. There are ants in my compost. What should I do?
  5. My compost is too dry. What should I do?
  6. My compost smells very badly. What should I do?
  7. My compost isn’t getting hot. Why?
  8. All the worms in my worm bin died. What happened?
  9. What is the least amount of work I can get away with to compost?

 

  1. Four-legged animals have been visiting my compost. What should I do?

FIRST: make sure you are not adding meat, dairy or greasy foods to your bin.

SECOND: make sure to cover any food scraps with a layer of leaves, soil or other brown material.

THIRD: consider getting a rodent-resistant bin, like FreeGarden EARTH Compost Bin.

 

  1. There are bugs in my compost pile. What should I do?

Nothing! Bugs are good in your compost bin, they are what allow decomposition to occur.

 

  1. A million tiny flies are surrounding my compost. What should I do?

The tiny flies are likely vinegar flies, and they look like fruit flies. To control them and black flies, make sure to cover food scraps with a light layer of soil, followed by a layer of brown material (leaves, straw, stripped newspaper) about 2-4 inches in depth.

 

  1. There are ants in my compost. What should I do?

Your pile might be too dry if there is huge number of ants. You can discourage ant residency by moistening and turning up the pile with a pitchfork.

To avoid ants from crawling up the handle of the pitchfork while you turn over the pile, create a sticky barrier before the handle using household glue or tape.

After turning over the pile, leave it alone for some time to give the ants a chance to leave.

 

This being said, don’t fret too much. Ants may actually help the composting process by bringing fungi and other organisms into their nests, making the compost richer in phosphorus and potassium.

 

  1. My compost is too dry. What should I do?

The ideal moisture of your compost is roughly the same are a wrung-out sponge: when squeezing a handful, no more than 2 drops of moisture should drip out, but sufficient moisture to hold the material in a ball. Piles that are exposed to air or the sun tend to dry out faster, you can try covering your pile with a plastic tarp to retain moisture.

 

You can also try adding water, but check that the water is absorbed into the pile. Watering a pile from above is frequently ineffective because dry materials shed water. In this case, turn the pile with a pitchfork or shovel, pulling it apart and restocking it, watering each layer.

 

If your pile is mainly woody prunings, you may need to add more fresh green materials to moisten it and to help retain this moisture.

 

  1. My compost smells very badly. What should I do?

If the pile is compressed or lacks air space, turn it or mix it with a pitchfork and add some more twigs and other materials that would provide air space.

 

If the material is so wet that water drips out when a handful is squeezed, add more brown material, like leaves, dried weeds, or soil, and mix thoroughly. If it is really wet, restock it completely and layer it with dry brown materials that provide air space to introduce air back into the pile. Be sure to loosen any clumps that have matted together.

 

If the pile has an ammonia odour, you may have too much green material (grass clippings, food scraps, green plant material) or not enough brown material. In this case, add more brown material or soil.

 

Remember to cover succulent green materials with a layer of leaves, dried out plants/weeds or a layer of soil to help prevent unpleasant smells.

 

  1. My compost isn’t getting hot. Why?

Many piles have too much brown material and not enough green material. For a pile to be hot, brown materials must be shredded with a mower or chipper. Keep in mind that piles that are made on an “add-as-you-go” basis heat up very little, even with a high green material content, because the break down occurs incrementally. You can help a pile heat up by mixing in blood meal, alfalfa hay, or horse or chicken manure.

 

The advantage of a hot pile is that is composts faster and kills weed seeds if the temperatures are maintained at 60 degrees C for three days. Maintain a hot pile takes ongoing attention to aeration, moisture, and green/brown balance.

 

If you don’t have the time or inclination, don’t worry, cold piles break down too! It simply takes longer.

 

  1. All the worms in my worm bin died. What happened?

Don’t be discouraged! As a biological system, a worm pile can be complex and it may take more than one attempt to get it right. The most common mistake is improper bedding or letting the bedding material dry out. It’s important to start with a 4 inch layer of good bedding. For best results, try a mix of rotten leaves and shredded paper, you can also add old compost and/or hay. If you don’t have these materials in hand, you can buy a block of compressed coconut fibre (aka. Coco-pith) at the nursery.

 

The bedding material should be moist as a wrung out sponge. Finally, remember that worm populations will increase or decrease in proportion to the amount of food they receive.

 

  1. What is the least amount of work I can get away with to compost?

If you simply want to compost food scraps, there are 2 very easy methods:

  • Modify a garbage can with a tight fittings lid for use as an animal resistant bin. You’ll need to drill some holes in the bottom of the can for drainage, set it in a shallow hole so animals can’t tip is over and over lays of fruit and vegetable scraps with a 2-4 inch layer of brown leave or soil to control flies and odours. Left alone, it will decompose in about 6 months to a year.
  • Alternatively, you can bury food waste in empty spots in vegetable and flower gardens, where it will decompose and nourish your plants.

 

If you want to compost yard trimmings, choose a spot that’s at least 2 feet away from wooden structures like fences or buildings. As you accumulate yard waste, throw them on this pile. Turn your compost when you have time or not at all, if you don’t. You can spray the pile with water occasionally in order to keep it as moist as a wrung out sponge. The material will shrink in volume and after 6 months to a year the bottom part of your pile will be a rich, crumbly compost.