line decor
Contact Us   


What is Compost?

Benefits of Composting

Using Finished Compost

Compost & Nutrition


Composting Systems

Siting Your Compost Area



What to Compost

Stages of Composting

The Carbon:Nitrogen Ratio

Compost Activators

Turning Your Compost


Quick Start Guide

The Add-as-you-go Pile

The Batch Pile

Grass Clippings

Food Scraps

Leaves, Weeds &
Garden Debris

Compost Tea

Worm Composting


Troubleshooting Guide

Ask Professor Rot




Professor Rot says:

Hooray for your composting efforts!

Hooray for your mistakes! That gives you an opportunity to learn a few things about the art and science of composting.

Hooray for not giving up!


Composting is both an art and a science. It is our human way to speed up the decomposition of organic matter over Mother Nature's more leisurely style. We can do in weeks or months what nature does in years.

Quick Links on this Page

Compost Troubleshooting Chart

Ask Professor Rot
(frequently asked composting questions)

Researchers have explored in detail the science of decomposition. The problem is that not all compost piles are created equal. We know in fact that matter will break down: in ecology this is called The Law of Entrophy. But it is almost impossible to create the ideal condition at home for perfect decomposition of food and yard waste. Large commerical composting operations (either businesses, municipalities or farmers) are old pros at composting massive amounts of vegetal waste. But at home, we are often left with our own resources, and that means mixing a dose of science with a dose of artful experimentation.

The first troubleshooting advice is perhaps the best:

Your composting efforts may not create the "perfect compost." However, keep trying, experiment, and analyze your "compost-style." Above all, DON'T GIVE UP!

compostingThe second troubleshooting advice is scientific and practical: Never forget the 4 RULES OF COMPOSTING. Of course, it is not a perfect world, so even these rules may not ensure perfect compost. However, researchers have determined that most composting problems can be traced to not adhering to these four simple principles.

The Add-as-You-Go compost pile is more prone to breaking the 4 Rules of Composting. This Troubleshooting Guide will help you problem-solve common issues.

However, even the Batch Pile method may have issues that need problem-solving. Consider that almost any type of compost pile will need some tinkering now and then. Fortunately, compost issues can be resolved fairly quickly because they center around just a few very common experiences most people face.



  1. Use quality MATERIALS (Greens & Browns)
  2. Create an adequate VOLUME for the pile
  3. Maintain consistent MOISTURE
  4. Ensure good AIR circulation




PROBLEM:  Compost pile does not heat up
Too Wet Compost materials are soggy: there is not enough air Turn the pile, adding dry absorbant material (BROWN-carbon)
Too Dry
Not enough moisture Moisten the pile without saturating it: use a spray nozzle
Should have the consistency of a damp wrung-out sponge
Pile is moist but isn't decomposing; or it is only damp and warm in the center
Too much carbon (brown) material, not enough nitrogen (green) matter Turn pile, adding nitrogen-rich materials such as manure, grass clippings, fresh leaves, vegetable or fruit wastes
Consider adding an activator
Ammonia smell

Too much nitrogen (GREEN matter) in pile (possibly too many grass clippings)

Or pile is too alkaline (possibly too much limestone, or ash and poplar/cottonwood tree leaves added to pile)

If nitrogen problem: Turn pile and add more BROWN material (carbon)

If alkaline related: Turn pile and add acid material like sawdust, oak leaves, vegetable scraps

Putrid smell (like rotten eggs)
Pile is too wet: not enough oxygen (is putrefying, not decomposing!) Turn pile to aerate it and add dry carbon (BROWN) materials to absorb excessive moisture
PROBLEM:   Pests (rodents, fruit flies, ants, gnats, raccoons, scavengers, etc.)
Rodents & raccoons, scavengers, and perhaps maggots
These are attracted to meat & fatty food scraps like cheese and other diary products

Remove meat/fatty foods from bin
Turn pile to increase temperature
Balance carbon to nitrogen ratio
Use rodent-proof bin: keep lid on, put 1/4-inch wire mesh on bottom or sides and insure air venting holes are less than 1/2-in diameter

Flies, fruit flies, gnats, etc.
These are attracted to uncovered wastes, especially fruits, melons, and vegetables Don't leave exposed! Mix or cover with carbon (brown) materials, finished compost or some soil
Pile is to dry or has too much BROWN material Turn the pile while moistening it with a spray nozzle. The ants will soon leave.




Throughout this website you have been given many tips and advice on how to easily and successfully compost at home. Professor Rot (the creation of an overactive imagination of the creators of this website, and the authors of the world's most popular guide on home composting, Home Composting Made Easy) offers here some commonsense advice. If you have specific questions about home composting please Contact Us and we will place the question and response on this page.


Can I compost newspaper?
Yes. It contains no nutrients (perhaps no good news either) but can serve as carbon material. Shred and soak it first before adding to your bin. Recycling is also useful.

Can I safely compost pet wastes?
Do not compost dog or cat poop (it may contain parasites or disease
organisms harmful to humans)! You can safely compost wastes from guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, or gerbils; even parrot poop and the back-end remains of other feathered friends.

Are there any types of weeds or leaves to avoid composting?
Yes there are. Please see how to compost Leaves & Weeds on this website.

What about composting diseased, pest-infected, or pesticide-ridden plants?
Plants riddled with disease, fungus, or aggressive insects like aphids should not be mixed with other matter in a pile. Experts don't all agree if the microbial decomposition process effectively breaks down most pesticides in food wastes. However, a hot pile that exceeds 140°F/60°C 2-3 times in the first two weeks is very effective in decomposing just about anything but smelly socks.

Should I wear gloves to handle compost?
It is not necessary. Many people love both the feel of freshly composted organic matter and its aroma. Others claim that handling their compost increases the level of happiness in their life. Worth trying, it works for me! After handling your compost wash your hands.

Will my compost bin secrete liquid if placed on concrete or a wooden deck?
Yes, so don't do it. A type of nutrient-rich organic soup (leachate or "compost tea") is created in the decomposition process. This liquid naturally seeps into the soil beneath the bin to benefit microorganisms.
Some municipalities require bottoms on bins, in which case it may then be possible to set the bin on concrete, a pallet, deck, or other surface.

Does compost replace fertilizer in my garden?
The nutrient requirements of your plants and the nutrient status of your soil are your best gauge. Compost provides many needed plant nutrients and disperses these in small doses over the course of a growing season. Compost feeds and conditions the soil for healthy plant growth. Fertilizer is short-term and mostly used to feed the plant.

Can I compost in Winter?
Yes. Most likely your bin will go dormant if internal temperatures drop below 50°F/10°C. But if you continue to add to it, as instructed in this website, the decomposition process will increase again in Spring. A Compost Activator may be added to the pile in Fall to boost initial heating and then again in Spring. Above all, be patient and kind.

How can I store kitchen wastes for later composting?
Stockpiling food wastes is an excellent composting strategy. It is thoroughly discussed here: How to Compost Food Scraps. Please note that composting food scraps may not be allowed in some communities. Check to see if that is an issue in yours.

Do I have to cover my compost pile?
Yes, or you can't watch TV! Covering your pile keeps heat and moisture in, rodents out, lessens leaching, and may be required by your municipality.

Do I have to turn my compost pile?
This very important issue is discussed in detail here: Turning Your Compost. Otherwise, "for every season, turn, turn, turn . . ."

Should I add worms to my bin?
No. They rise up naturally out of the soil beneath the bin later in the decomposing process when the heat is lower (they have tender feet!). The absence of worms in your bin, however, is not a problem: having no knees they travel slow. The consequence of adding compost to your garden, either as a soil additive or a mulch, is exceptional tilth naturally loaded with worms who naturally migrate up from deeper levels of the soil. Naturally!

How do I control for rodents, ants and flies?
See Troubleshooting Chart for causes and solutions. Otherwise, bathe regularly.

How do I use compost for houseplants?
Sift finished compost through a 1/4-inch screen or strainer. Pasteurize sifted ingredients (laid out on a baking pan) in an oven for one hour at 200°F/90°C. Voila! Precious potting soil for houseplants!

I'm overwhelmed with too many leaves. What should I do?
Autumn leaves are great for stockpiling. Why not bag some, store them near your bin and use to cover food scraps you'll add throughout the winter. They can also help in Spring & Summer when brown materials tend to be in short supply. Otherwise, share with others and be thankful for the bounty! See Composting Leaves & Weeds for more advice.

I'm overwhelmed with too many greens & grass clippings!!
For grass clippings see How to Compost Grass Clippings for solutions. Stockpile other "green" wastes in holding bins to dry out, or dig both plant and food wastes directly into the soil, at least 8"/20cm deep. Try storing in containers for use later, or simply give to a neighbor who composts.

How do I compost in a dry, semi-arid climate?
Especially check the moisture level of your pile (the dry heat will draw the moisture out faster). Locate your bin in a shaded area if possible. Don't add alkaline materials to it (ashes, limestone, cottonwood/poplar leaves). This raises the pH of the contents (making it more alkaline) thereby making the already typically aklaline soils of dry climates even more alkaline when compost is added.

Egads! My compost pile is half the size than when I started it. What's wrong?
Maybe a thief in the night? Actually, all those voluminous organic materials got broken down into itty-bitty pieces of rich humus. Thank the gazillion hungry microbes for that who giddily set up residence inside your bin. Also remember that vegetation is well over 70% water. If you turned your compost regularly, you also created more surface area for the bacteria and heat to work on. All in all, finished compost is in fact about one-half the volume of the original pile. And remember this: in any compost bin, the finished compost is on the bottom part of the pile.



Contact these local sources:

  • County Extension Service
  • Municipal Waste Management District
  • Local Master Compostor or Master Gardener Hotline
  • Local Garden Center




Our parent site - Cortesia Sanctuary is on Facebook


Solution Graphics

Home Composting
Made Easy

The world's most popular composting guide. Over 2,000,000 in print! And we wrote it!

Only $4.95 (+$2.00 shipping)

Get more info>




















Copyright 2008, Cortesia Sanctuary   Contact Us

For inspiration please visit our parent site:
For herbal healing & wellness visit our site: