5 Mistakes You Are Probably Making With Your Compost Pile

Written By Jennifer

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A good compost pile is a gardener’s never-ending supply of nutrient-rich material that can be added to potting mix and garden beds to enrich and improve the soil.

As long as it keeps getting the love, care, and organic materials it needs, it will keep on giving back.

There are some factors to consider to ensure the best end product possible is delivered in a timely manner.

When I first started composting, I made lots of mistakes. These were not huge mistakes, but the pile was invariably too wet or too dry and didn’t break down well. I wondered whether it was worth the effort.

Over the years, making good compost has become pretty much automatic, and I make adjustments where necessary.

I should add that I/we have in our family a medium-sized black compost bin that is basic but works.

We have never traded up to a fancier model, although I see nothing wrong with doing that.

Our model is similar to this one. This one is a little fancier than ours as it has the drawer at the bottom and the aeration features built into the bin.

Garden Composter Bin Made from Recycled Plastic – 110 Gallons (420Liter) Large Compost Bin - Create Fertile Soil with Easy Assembly, Lightweight, Aerating Outdoor Compost Box – by D.F. Omer

Essentially, the key to successful composting is all about controlling the process of decomposition and then letting nature and the composting process run its course.

5 Mistakes You Are Probably Making With Your Compost Pile

1.Wrong Moisture Content

A compost pile that is too dry will decompose very slowly and may become infested with ants or wasps. On the other hand, too much moisture will basically inhibit the oxygen supply. Enough oxygen is essential to decomposition.

Too much moisture will cause the organisms to reproduce anaerobically. An ammonia odor emanating from the compost pile is a good indication that it is too wet. There is more information about too much water in the compost pile below.

Overwatering The Pile

Too much moisture or added water, will cause the material to break down too quickly and will result in a slimy, smelly, soggy mess. Avoid overwatering your compost pile, as this can cause a number of problems. Too much water can compact the material in the pile, making it difficult for air to circulate. This can lead to anaerobic conditions, which creates a rotten eggs smell and can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.

Excessive moisture can also attract pests, such as rodents and insects. By taking care not to overwater your compost pile, you can ensure that it remains healthy and productive.

How To Add Water To A Compost Pile Properly

Adding water to a compost pile is essential for the decomposition process. Too much water will slow down the decomposition process, while too little water and a dry compost pile will make it difficult for bacteria and other organisms to break down the organic matter.

To check the moisture level of your compost pile, simply grab a handful of material and squeeze it. If a few drops of water run out, the moisture content is just right. If water runs out in a steady stream, add some dry matter (brown materials) such as leaves or straw to absorb the excess moisture. And if no water drips out at all, give the compost heap a good soaking with a hose or watering can.

mistakes you are making with your compost pile

2. Too Compact – Turn The Pile

Without proper ventilation, the compost will not be able to breath and will start to rot.

Composting is a great way to recycle green waste and turn it into a valuable resource for your garden. However, if the compost pile is not aerated properly, it can become compacted, preventing air from circulating and causing the decomposition process to slow down.

Regular aeration of the compost pile helps to oxygenate the material and keep decomposition on track. In addition, it helps to prevent unpleasant odors and keep the compost pile looking neat and tidy.

So don’t forget to give your compost a good aeration every few weeks! Put a reminder note on the calendar.

turn the compost

Do You Need A Compost Aerator?

An aerator that is specifically made for turning the compost is a worthwhile investment if you have a static bin like ours.

A compost tumbler is a different type of compost bin that can be rotated and doesn’t therefore need aerating.

This is what a compost aerator looks like. It is essentially like a giant corkscrew that lifts and turns the compost. This is how a compost aerator works.

Note the second hand grip with this aerator? Not all compost aerators have the second handle. The second handle makes it easier to grip and turn the unit.

Lotech Products Compost Crank Compost Aerator

3. Not Layering The Materials Properly

It is essential to keep the ratio of nitrogen (green materials) to carbon (brown materials) correct.

You need to layer green and brown materials. Why?

Green materials are rich in nitrogen, while brown materials are high in carbon. The microorganisms that break down organic matter need both carbon and nitrogen to thrive.

If there is too much nitrogen, the microorganisms will consume all of the oxygen in the compost pile, leading to anaerobic conditions.

This can cause odors and attract pests. Conversely, if there is too much carbon, the composting process will be slow or not happen at all.

By layering green and brown materials in a compost pile, gardeners can ensure that the ideal ratio is maintained, resulting in healthy decomposition.

How To Layer Green And Browns In A Compost Bin

Green material is high in nitrogen and include items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings.

Brown materials are high in carbon and include items such as dead leaves, twigs, and shredded paper.

When layering green and brown material, it is important to start with a layer of browns. This provides structure for the pile and allows for better air circulation.

A word of warning regarding grass clippings. Don’t throw a whole pile of grass clippings into the bin. Once in the bin the grass clippings can mat and block any airflow. There is detailed information here about how to compost grass clippings successfully.

I can eyeball the pile now to see how it looks. If it looks too wet which can often be the case, as we compost all fruit and vegetable scraps, my ‘go to brown’ to add to the pile is shredded paper. I always have some ready as mentioned in this article about composting paper and it is a quick and easy fix.

This is a pile of greens. Next will come some browns.

4. Purchasing Earthworms Or Inoculation Kits

I have never used these kits so I do not have personal experience using them. I suppose you may get a kick start with your compost but it is money that you don’t need to spend in my opinion.

My feeling is that it is best to let nature take it’s course. Inoculation kits and earthworms are not necessary to start or maintain a compost pile. Nature will always do the job, and very well, without the introduction of external influences such as these.

If you are keen to get a head start, get a new compost heap/pile going with some some well rotted compost which is already full of beneficial microbes.

Native earthworms will naturally congregate to the pile, attracted by it’s warmth and moisture. We always have native earthworms in the compost pile. These earthworms are not the same as the earthworms that are purchased to go into a worm composting system.

5. Animal Products

It is best to leave animal products out of a compost pile.

Meat and dairy products can actually harm the compost. These items often take months to decompose, and during that time they can attract pests and create unpleasant odors.

Meat and dairy products can introduce harmful bacteria into the compost, which can ultimately contaminate your garden soil. Avoid adding meat and dairy products to your compost.

When it comes to composting, natural is the best way to go. Adding other unnatural ingredients is usually wasteful, expensive, and unnecessary to facilitate a chemical reaction at which mother nature is already very adept.

The keys to creating and maintaining a healthy compost pile is to use a wide variety of organic material, watering when dryness is apparent, and turning the pile regularly to ensure good oxygen content.

It takes only an observant gardener and a little work to create a healthy and productive compost pile.


There is nothing more satisfying than using some finished compost in the garden knowing that you have made it and what’s more you can keep on making it.

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