Too wet or dry? Top composting challenges
No one size fits all and different methods work for different situations. That's one sure fire thing we know about composting.
There are however some common challenges that all gardeners will face at some point on their composting journey. Here are the tops ones we've come across and ways to solve them.
Too dry or too wet
One of the most important things you can do is balance your greens and browns, otherwise your heap can get too wet or too dry.
Browns are things like cardboard, egg boxes, straw, hay, shredded paper, twigs, woody stems and bark/woodchip, they tend to be drier and contain lots of carbon.
Greens are grass clippings, leafy or soft plant growth, veg peelings, tea leaves, coffee grounds and fruit, they tend to be wet and contain lots of nitrogen.
Greens provide the moisture and energy for the bacteria (where you get the heat) and browns provide the structure and air, you want about a 50:50 mix of each.
One of the most important things you can do is balance your greens and browns
So to avoid your compost heap or bin drying out or getting too wet,
- use one layer of brown and one of green, and repeat.
- find the right spot in your garden for your heap or bin (if possible). Ideally put it in partial sun. In full sun it's more likely to dry out and in full shade it might not get hot enough.
- mix or aerate it every few weeks so air gets into the compost which means it will break down properly and not smell. The drier outer edges get mixed in with the moist centre so that you get even composting, the greens and browns are also mixed so they complement each other.
It’s said you’re never far from a rat and a warm compost heap can be an attractive place for them to nest. Here’s how to discourage them:
- don’t let your heap get dry, rats like it dry, they dislike it moist
- don’t put meat or dairy in your heap
- keep mixing or turning your heap, they don’t like to be disturbed.
- there’s anecdotal evidence that human wee is a turn off for rats, to do with territory marking, so another good reason to add wee to your compost.
Your compost heap is unlikely to get hot enough to kill some weeds so avoid putting them in your bin, otherwise they'll spread to your beds when you're ready to use the compost.
Common problem weeds include dandelions, ground elder, dock, nettles and bindweed. The leaves of all these are fine to add straight to your heap, it's the roots that are the problem.
To avoid this -
- put the weeds in a full bucket of water (they must be fully submerged) and leave for a few weeks. This drowns the weeds and kills the parts that could regrow. The resulting weed slop can then be added to your heap.
- If you feel unsure about doing this, then you can always put these weeds in your brown bin - the council composters get hot enough to kill them.
Do not compost any grass clippings that have been treated with herbicides or weed and feed treatments, there are at least two long lived herbicides that do not fully break down in the composting process – clopyralid and picloram – sold under a number of trade names.
There is a good chance the herbicide will be active and damage the plants you add the compost to.
This is a great opportunity to go organic and stop using weed killers, your earthworms will be really grateful too.