Compost is a wonderful soil amendment that helps improve the texture of your soil. It is also very easy to produce yourself at home by using only kitchen and lawn waste. However, it is not likely that you (or anyone) will yield perfect compost every time; it is a skill that is subject to trial and error. Composting mistakes are common to beginners in gardening. Here we have some solutions to common problems and mistakes as well as tips so that you can use your compost with confidence.
1. Too Many Greens
“Greens” are the nitrogen-rich components of compost. These would include most kitchen scraps as well as things like coffee grounds. Compost requires a delicate balance of greens and browns. When you have too many greens, compost will become too wet and can become compacted, which hurts the beneficial bacteria in your pile. This can cause your compost to smell rotten. Too many greens may also yield a compost that is thick and clumps together. Add more brown material such as straw, twigs, or dead leaves to fix this problem. Turning the mixture will also let more air in, creating a friendlier environment for the bacteria and avoiding adding more moisture to the compost pile until the smell has dissipated.
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2. Dry or Cold Compost
At the opposite end of the spectrum are compost piles with too many “browns”. There are carbon-rich components of compost that help achieve its crumbly texture. Too many browns, however, will dry out the compost and can halt the decomposition process. If the decomposition process slows down, the pile will become cold. If you have either of these problems, add more greens and water to your mixture. Covering the top of the mixture if you have not done so already can help it retain moisture. You can also turn the mixture to let in more air and restart decomposition.
3. Too Coarse
Larger material like egg shells or leaves does not fully decompose, this is a common problem for new compost piles. New piles do not have strong microbiome as established piles. If you are finding particles of waste in mature compost, it is totally fine to add it back into an existing compost pile. This can actually benefit a compost pile by reintroducing microbes. As a preventative measure, you can shred or crush all the materials that go into your compost pile so that they are easier to break down. That’s one way in composting.
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4. Composting the Wrong Things
There are many things that should not be composted. If you have any doubt about whether or not something can be composted, err on the side of caution and do your research. Generally, animal products are not good for compost because they can attract larger animals like raccoons or rats. These products would include meats, fish, and dairy. Going with animal products is the waste of carnivores like cats or dogs. Herbivore waste, however, can be composted, but carnivores are more subject to parasites and harmful microbes. Other things that should be avoided are glossy cardboard, coal ash, oils, and weeds that have gone to seed.
Perfect compost is dark and crumbly with a pleasant, earthy smell. If there are any large particle like twigs or leaves, you can take them out and throw them back into an active compost pile. Once your compost has matured, you’ll be able to use it in a variety of ways. Generally speaking, start with a small amount of compost and increase as needed.
In Your Garden
Compost is a wonderful soil amendment for gardens because of its ability to improve soil texture. A more aerated soil will allow plants to grow deeper roots and better crops. As a general guideline in composting, add an even 1-3 inch layer of compost when planting in a garden. You may need to add more if you soil is high in clay or sand. Alternatively, if you have very rich soil, you can add less. Adding compost to a garden is easily done manually with your hands or a shovel.
DIY Potting Soil
Compost is also excellent for potting soils because of its ability to retain moisture while also improving drainage. While there are many different recipes for potting mix, a basic one would be to combine equal amounts of compost, vermiculite, and topsoil. The addition of compost will also introduce a healthy microbiome to the plant you plan to pot.
Top Dressing Lawns
To spread compost on a lawn, it is especially important not to add too much as it can smother the grass. Adding a ¼-inch layer is ideal for adding nutrients while still allowing the grass space to breathe and grow. This even spread is often difficult to achieve when using a wheelbarrow and shovel, so we recommend using the Landzie Compost & Peat Moss Spreader. To use this manual compost spreader, you need only fill it will coarse-textured compost and walk a path around your lawn. This cuts down on manual labor and saves time when spreading compost. After adding compost to your lawn, empty any remaining compost from the spreader to use later or add it back to an active compost pile. Make sure to water your lawn thoroughly; this helps the compost seep further down into the soil instead of sitting on the blades of grass.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should I Spread Compost?
When and how often you spread compost will depend on the needs of your garden or lawn. As a rule of thumb, compost is best added to gardens in early spring before plants have started to grow. This will kick start the soil’s microbiome, which is especially important if you live in colder climates. You can also add compost during the fall in anticipation of the next growing season. Adding it during the fall will help to retain moisture and prevent erosion during the winter months.
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