How do I know my compost is working?

How do I know my compost is working?

Also: Why is my compost full of flies?

It’s easy to see if your compost is working as it should and there are ways to rectify issues when it isn’t. You will know that your compost is working well when you observe and consider the points made here: 



  1. Your compost shouldn’t be too wet

Wet compost won’t rot as easily as just moist. It’s unlikely that there will be no moisture in your compost. It only takes a low level of moisture to start the moulding-stage that needs to happen before any organic material can fully rot down. You will know that mould is around when you see mould-fur, which is usually white, on food-waste that’s been recently added to your compost.

If your compost looks heavy and dull, then, it probably means that you haven’t added enough dryer material to balance the more moist ingredients that come from the kitchen. This is one of the main reasons why your compost may not be working.

  1.  Your compost should have no smell

No or little smell is a good sign that your compost is working well. A clear sign that your compost isn’t working as it should be, is a bad smell. Compost that is being made from the right balance of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ will generate very little smell. There will always be a whiff of something when anything rots but it shouldn’t be enough to notice. 

A bad smell will, most likely, be associated with your compost being too wet. This will make for an anaerobic digestion that will generate obnoxious gasses, usually of a sulphurous nature. What we want is an aerobic action which makes up the basic workings of any composting process.

If you notice a bad smell, there are things that you can do. My favourite response would be to sprinkle a generous amount of hydrated white lime powder on the surface of your compost. This will get things working on the surface. It will begin the process of neutralising the acidity that can be associated with compost that smells.

The adding of white lime will take effect straight away and you should notice a difference in the level of smell in a few days. The effect of the white lime will then begin working its way down into the compost mass.

Another more direct and decisive way of getting a smelling-compost pile to improve, is to dig the whole composting mass over. While you’re doing this you have an opportunity to add some hydrated white lime and other ingredients like dead leaves or shredded cardboard. Leaves and cardboard will provide much-needed carbon which will balance any excess of nitrates in the compost.

See more about composting

  1.  Everything should break down in your compost

A compost pile that leaves items in one piece and shows no signs of breaking down, is an indicator that the composting isn’t working properly.

This may be as a result of your compost being too wet and acidic. There will also, most likely, be the noticeable smell that comes with it. The acidity is the problem. When we try to make compost, the aim is to get organic material to rot. Acids tend to preserve. 

This is a form of pickling but in compost. It’s the main reason why we see items, for example pieces of fruit, that aren’t turning into compost as they should. Fruit items are generally acidic and often need extra attention to convert them into compost.

  1. The level of compost should be dropping down

When organic material converts into compost, It will take up less space. It won’t be immediately obvious but the whole composting mass in the compost bin will shrink. This will happen slowly. If you place a marker at the surface level of your compost, then leave it for a few days, you should notice that the level has dropped. When you see this, you will know that things are happening as they should in your compost.

  1. You should see plenty of worms in your compost

This is probably the best indicator of all that shows that your compost is working properly. A strong and lively population of worms in your compost tells you everything that you need to know that your compost is working at the most efficient level that it can.

Worms wouldn’t be in your compost if the conditions weren’t suitable for them. When you see a lot of worms in compost, you know that the moisture level is where it needs to be, although they can function in some wet composts.

You will know that the acidity level will be at a bearable level for worms when you see a lot of worm activity.

How can you know if the Rolypig composter is working?

There is very little doubt with the Rolypig composter. This is a tumbler-style composter. The regular agitation that comes from rolling over, ensures that enough air is drawn into the mass of compost in the barrel. Added to that, because the Rolypig sits directly on the ground, worms can find their way in and multiply to huge numbers. 

The compost in a Rolypig composter starts as fresh kitchen waste at the mouth end. It will work its way from the front to the rear of the barrel, over time, as the barrel is rolled over. 

When the finished compost is removed at the rear, it’s ready to use as a plant-food compost. There’s always plenty of worms in the compost when I take any out. You may be tempted to return some of them to the Rolypig but this shouldn’t be necessary because of the masses of worms that are involved.

Why is my compost full of flies?

Why is my compost full of flies?

Your compost may appear to be full of flies because there will be something or a range of materials in your compost that they’re attracted to. If you see clouds of very small flies, these will be fruit-flies. They will turn up to feed on the sugars that are released from fruit waste as it begins to ferment and break down.

See more about flies

The other flies that you will see are, most likely, going to be house-flies. Their interests are usually around any waste that has meat or bones. They turn up at your compost to find somewhere to lay their eggs. This, of course, leads to maggots. When you have maggots in the compost you will inevitably see more flies around your compost.

What can you do about flies on compost?

Some will argue that there’s no point trying to do anything about flies on compost. They’re going to turn up, do what they want while the conditions suit them and then they will disappear.

Because you are adding fresh waste regularly, there will always be something new to attract them. Until you reach the point where your compost bin is full and you close it off to allow the entire mass to rot down to a constant, flies will continue to have a reason to be there.

If you find them to be a major irritation there are things that you can do. Putting the lid on the compost bin will slow them down but lids are rarely so tight-fitting that they will stop them completely.

There are lots of suggestions that will make a difference. One idea is to cover the surface of the compost with organic materials that aren’t attractive to flies. 

Empty out the vacuum cleaner onto the compost. This will work best in a compost bin. The open surface area in a compost bin is a lot less than that of an open heap. 

Someone else suggested digging over the surface of the exposed compost in an attempt to bury whatever the flies are after. I would suggest that this would more likely expose material that flies want.

An idea that I find effective is to sprinkle hydrated white lime on the exposed surface of the compost. This will reduce any acidity that’s being generated by organic material that’s rotting, in the early stages of turning into compost. 

The adding of white lime will accelerate the composting process which will mean that the material that the flies are attracted to will change and become less attractive.

Another interesting suggestion is to grow shrubs around your compost bin. The idea being that shrubs will attract small birds which will prey on the flies. If you do this, it may be worth leaving the lid off of the compost bin and allowing the birds to scratch around on the surface of the compost. They could feed on any maggots that they find and take the odd slug that’s hiding on the inside of the compost bin.

How do flies affect the Rolypig composter?

Flies can get into the Rolypig composter but they need to hurry if they want to make anything of it. I’m finding that there are so many worms in the compost inside the Rolypig barrel that they tend to spill-out onto the freshly added kitchen waste.

With so many worms living and breeding in the compost, any flies that show up, need to be quick to compete with the worms. If there are no worms in a Rolypig composter, then, it’s advised that worms are imported to get things moving.

It’s important that you do all the right things when making compost the Rolypig way. Just as with any other composting system, the usual rules apply. Add shredded paper or ripped cardboard as you feed kitchen waste to ensure a balance of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’. Regular adding of hydrated white lime will reduce acidity. White lime will be of use to the worms. Worms will ingest lime powder which will help them to digest the composting material.

Image sources:

Rolypig.com

What else would you like to know?

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