To make compost that’s black and crumbly. It mustn’t be too wet or too dry. It mustn’t smell or be infested with flies.
The thing about making compost is that it should be easy. After all, we’re only trying to get things to rot. Most of the time we have problems trying to stop things from rotting. There shouldn’t be any problems getting things to rot.
When we attempt to make compost we need to be mindful that all we’re doing is helping along a process that nature, largely, controls. It should be easy. There shouldn’t be any problems at all. Making compost shouldn’t be any more complicated than putting together a heap of organic material, of any sort, then leaving it to nature.
Nature never has problems, only us. Nature will turn any organic material into compost, eventually. You can show nature the wettest, driest and most acidic compost heap and it will turn it into compost.
So, why do we have so many problems making compost when it should be so easy?
Our problems start with not fully understanding what nature requires to get the job done. There needs to be a balance in conditions. If our compost has too much of one thing and not enough of another, then we will have problems. All of this can be rectified. Let’s go through some of the main problems that some people have.
Problems with compost being too dry
There are many foods that we eat that are preserved by drying it down to near-zero moisture. Maintaining dry conditions reduces the risk of mould. When we make compost we want the opposite. The composting process starts with mould and that needs moisture. It doesn’t need to be saturated with water, just enough to make it damp.
If you have a compost heap that’s, clearly, very dry, this will need a lot of watering. So, add a lot of water through a watering can with a rose attachment fitted. This will help to ensure that most of the water that you use will stay in the compost heap rather than flow straight through it.
You will need to water your dry compost heap for 2 or 3 days to allow the water to soak into the compost mass.
An alternative to watering your compost could be to leave what you have as dry. Then keep adding fresh kitchen waste to the top of the compost pile. Kitchen waste tends to be moist. The moisture from fresh waste will soak down into the dry material below.
This will provide enough moisture to start the process of converting the dry portion into compost. The best part about this method is that the liquid that soaks into the dry material, will be nitrate rich. The combination of nitrates and carbon ‘browns’, in the dry part, will lead to a better balance that will produce the compost that you want.
Problems with compost being too wet
Of all the problems that people have with their compost, this is the most common. Most people have a compost bin which becomes a convenient dumping point for kitchen waste. The compost bin gradually fills with kitchen waste and nothing else.
The problem with this is that kitchen waste alone won’t have enough carbon ‘browns’ to make a balanced mixture. The result is that the gathering mass will not start the process of converting to compost. It will remain stagnant. The mass of material will become solid with no air moving through it. It will be, almost, preserved. It will smell and attract flies.
This problem can be easily rectified at any stage of your attempt to make compost. The first thing is to recognise the problem that there is too much of one thing and not enough of the other. In this case there is too much nitrates, so you need more carbon ‘brown’ material.
You need a source of carbon. This can be cardboard, torn into small pieces, sawdust, dead leaves, newspaper or a combination of all of these.
If your starting-point, here, is a solid mass of wet compost that’s going nowhere, then you need to dig out what you have and start again. You need to empty the compost bin completely. Then load everything back in and while you’re doing this, add the cardboard, sawdust, dead leaves or newspaper as you do it.
This will give your compost a new meaning. The excess moisture that has been causing problems, will become absorbed by the carbon ‘brown’ material and your compost will start to dry out. Moulds will appear and you will begin to see your compost become what it should be.
Problems with compost being too acidic
If you add too much kitchen waste to your compost and not enough ‘browns’ then, another of the problems you can expect is acidity. The problem will be taken further if you regularly add citrus waste to the compost.
Acidity is associated with compost that’s too wet. So effort is required, as aforementioned, to reduce the moisture level. In addition to this, there is an ingredient that you can add that will make a big difference and it will improve the overall quality of your compost.
You need to add hydrated white lime. Not enough people do this. White lime is relatively cheap, it’s safe and easy to use. It’s a fine, white powder that’s been produced from limestone rock. All you need to do is to occasionally sprinkle it over your compost. It will directly react with the acids in your compost, creating a neutral medium that will help the composting process to continue they way we want.
Problems with heaps of lawn clippings
Another of the problems some people have is with the sudden influx of a lot of organic material that can be made into compost but they’re not sure about the best way of doing it.
The temptation is to press as much as possible into the compost bin, on top of the kitchen waste. This may work if you have a small lawn and a large enough compost bin.
For most people, it’s probably better if you don’t put any lawn clippings in the compost bin that’s taking your kitchen waste. It’s not wise to compact grass, or anything else into a compost bin, as this will reduce air movement. It will also take up space. Lawn clippings are very bulky but they will rot down and take up less space as time goes by.
There are a couple of options if you have a load of lawn clippings to deal with. One option is to don’t make compost of them. Use them as a mulch around plants. This is usually very effective. It will keep down weeds and the clippings will rot down into the soil around the plants.
The other option is to make compost of it but set up a completely separate compost pile. The most simple and basic way of doing this is to acquire 4 wooden pallets and tie them together to make a simple enclosure.
Then just throw the grass clippings into what you’ve provided and leave it there. It would help if you sprinkle some hydrated white lime over it. The heap that you create will become compost without much intervention from you. One of the easiest materials to make compost is grass clippings.
Some people have problems using compost
There shouldn’t be any problems when using compost. There’s lots of advice about how to make the best use of your compost. You can sieve it to extract the fine particles and mix this with garden soil and sand to make your own potting compost. A good mixture would be 2 parts sieved compost, 1 part garden soil and 1 part sharp sand. This would give you a open-texture soil for small seeds
When you sieve compost, there will be lumps of material that have lasted the distance without fully rotting. These bits can go back into the compost bin to go around again.
Or you can just take what you have and dig it into the ground. After many months of rotting, you should have compost that will do something for your soil. It’s not critical that everything in your compost has completely rotten down. If there are bits that have survived the months in your compost, these will break down in the soil.
Composting has disadvantages but not many
What are the disadvantages of composting?
One of the main disadvantages of composting on an industrial scale is that the operation can take up a lot of space. Composting, rather than taking organic waste to landfill sites, is the much preferred option. Industrial composting takes a lot of heavy machinery. Industrial composting involves setting out long columns of organic waste which sit there, waiting for the elements to break down the material. Then the long heap is moved over to one side. The forming compost is left for a while, then it’s moved over again to occupy the original position.
Looking at the disadvantages of composting at home
This method of composting will continue for as long as it takes to convert the whole amount into finished compost.
Another of the disadvantages of composting industrially is the question of what can be done with all the compost that’s being produced. It has to go somewhere or it will be taking up space that’s needed for new batches where the composting process has to start again.
Large volumes of compost produced from industrial composting either need a buyer to take the compost in bulk deliveries or the finished compost has to be bagged in small quantities to be sold to people with gardens.
Industrial composting has to be commercial composting. It has to pay its way or otherwise it won’t be worth doing.
There are few disadvantages of composting at home
The question of whether there are disadvantages of composting at home is rarely considered by those who do it. With just a little knowledge on the subject, it’s possible to do home composting with the minimum of effort.
Once you’ve got into the routine of composting, you will see the regular trips to the compost bin as being no different from regular trips to the trash can that’s emptied to go to landfill.
Composting at home can be a bit of a commitment. A compost bin can take up space. One of the disadvantages of composting at home is that you may need to have a number of compost bins that are all at different stages of composting.
Home composting needs room
Then, there is a need to turn over the compost to accelerate the composting process. You need room to be able to do this. Turning over a compost pile takes effort but if you’re not used to manual work, you don’t need to do it all at once. You can make home composting easy for yourself by doing these manual chores in stages. Composting is a long game. It’s never in any hurry, so, why should you be?
You can make the whole composting process easier for yourself if you use a compost tumbler. Composting this way doesn’t require any digging. You don’t need to roll a tumbler every day, just roll it over occasionally.
Nutrients are lost through composting
Of all the disadvantages of composting the most important one of all must surely be the unavoidable loss of nutrients. There’s nothing we can do about it. Composting is all about the breaking down of organic material. Nothing will break down without something getting away.
Losing nutrients are one of the disadvantages of composting
Composting of organic material will release valuable nitrates. ¾ of the atmosphere is made up of nitrogen. This is becauses it escapes everytime organic material rots, it doesn’t only happen when we are composting.
No disadvantages of composting with the Rolypig
I use the Rolypig composting tumbler. It’s very simple to use. The waste is fed in at the mouth and the finished compost comes out at the other end, as you may expect. You never need to empty the Rolypig. It works at its best when it’s full.
I’ve been using the Rolypig for a number of years and I’ve yet to find any disadvantages of composting this way. There’s a notable advantage with using the Rolypig composter. Because it sits directly on the ground, worms find their way in and the population builds up very quickly.
Every time I remove compost from the back end of the Rolypig, there’s a whole load of worms that come out with it. It doesn’t matter that worms are extracted every time I remove finished compost because there’s always a massive population inside the Rolypig. The conditions are favourable for worms which means that they’re breeding all the time.
Can you turn a compost pile too much?
Most people who have had anything to do with making compost will have got the message that for a compost pile to become good quality compost, they have to turn it. The enthusiasts will be out there, with a fork, giving it a good turning over.
Turning over any organic material will help to introduce air into a compost pile but some people are wondering, can you turn a compost pile too much?
Yes you can turn your compost pile too much. After a turning session you need to leave it a while to settle down. Give nature time to catch its breath after the major agitation that you have caused. When you turn a compost pile, it isn’t just the organic material that has been given a good shake-up. The fungal activity that’s trying to get a foot-hold, will have been seriously disturbed.
Microbial life-forms that play a big part in the heating-up process of a compost pile, need a period of quiet to allow them to build up the momentum of heat. If you turn the compost too much or too often, the heat won’t build up. The turning action will allow extra air into the compost which will keep it cool when we want it to become hot.
The whole process of managing a compost pile is not an exact science. There are many factors that can vary when making compost. If you have a compost pile that’s rather wet, then you need to turn it more often and consider adding some drier material as you’re turning it, usually carbon ‘browns’, to remove some of the moisture and improve the balance of the compost that you want to make.
A compost pile that is damp and not wet, is more likely to heat-up. This will typically happen when making compost from material like lawn clippings. You will often notice steam emerging from a pile of lawn clippings the day after you’ve made the pile.
If you dig in with a fork and start turning it over, you will see clouds of steam rise up. The turning of the pile at this stage will release heat that becomes trapped within the pile. Turning a pile of lawn clippings the day after you’ve cut the lawn, won’t harm the composting process. A good turn-over at this stage will help to move things along a bit quicker. But after this first turning over, the best thing you can do is to leave it for at least a week.
The pile will continue to heat. You will probably notice that the pile will shrink in size. The first turning session may be all that you will need to do. Be ready to just leave it and do nothing. The fungi and microbial life-forms may not need any more assistance. Let nature do the hard work, it knows what to do.
Lawn clippings are easy to make compost from. The fact that they heat up without any effort from us, is an indication that the balance of nitrates and carbon are as right as they can be from the get-go. One, may be two, turnings of a pile of lawn clippings and the Composting. Composting. pile will usually take care of itself there after.
Where we may need to turn a compost pile more often is when we make compost from kitchen waste. This tends to stay as a solid lump that always manages to seal itself, preventing air from getting in. This a cold rot, it rarely gets hot.
This isn’t a problem. One way of making it easy is to use a compost tumbler. Every time you turn over a compost tumbler, the contents become opened up and air will get in. Compost tumblers are ideal for kitchen waste doing a cold rot.
You only need to turn the Rolypig a little
This is where I get to talk about the Rolypig composter. This is an ideal tumbler-style composter. It’s just like any other tumbler when it comes to turning the compost inside the barrel. The interesting point about turning kitchen waste in any compost tumbler is that you don’t need to turn it very often and you don’t need to fully rotate the barrel.
Most compost tumblers are single batch vessels. The Rolypig composter will take in kitchen waste at the mouth end and deliver compost at the other end. As for the turning, I rarely turn it over. When I do turn it I rotate the barrel just a half turn but rarely give it a full 360deg turn and this is just to make room to put more kitchen waste in.