Your composting problems

Slushy bin? Nothing happening? Your composting conundrums solved

My compost has ‘slowed down’ over recent months

There are a few options to try and speed up the composting process:

  • give the contents of the whole bin a good stir as this will incorporate more air into the mix.
  • if the contents seem dry, add more 'greens' such as fruit and veg peelings, tea leaves and grass cuttings (and some water)
  • if the contents look wet, add some more 'browns' such as leaves, cardboard, egg boxes and shells and shredded paper.
  • add some materials which decompose quicker, including comfrey, nettles, and thin layers of grass cuttings to get the process working again
My compost is very dry and grainy

For a quick fix, add some cold water and over time, build up more ‘green’ nitrogen-rich items such as grass cuttings and kitchen peelings to keep moisture levels up.

I’ve put only grass cuttings into my bin and its not working

Empty your kitchen caddy along with your garden waste into your compost bin.

A 50:50 mix of ‘greens’ such as fruit and veg peelings, tea leaves/coffee grounds and grass cuttings and ‘browns’ such as leaves, cardboard, egg boxes, egg shells and shredded paper is the perfect recipe for good compost.

You could also add some bulky items such as toilet roll tubes and scrunched up paper into your bin and turn your compost with a garden fork or similar to introduce more air.

Why does my compost bin smell?

Depending on which composting system you are using, this may be because you have incorrectly added cooked food waste, meat, fish or bones. If this is the case it would be best to remove them in the first instance.

Once you have removed any incorrect items it may then be a good idea to give the contents of your compost bin a turn with a garden fork or similar to introduce more air into your bin which will speed up the composting process.

You can also get more air into your compost by mixing bulky items such as toilet roll tubes, cardboard, scrunched up or shredded paper into your bin and by turning your compost with a garden fork or similar.

My compost looks like it has all turned to mush

It sounds like the contents of your compost bin are too wet.

This may be because you have been adding to much ‘green’ materials such as fruit and vegetable peelings and grass in comparison to ‘browns’ such as shredded paper and garden leaves. Try turning your compost and adding more ‘brown’ materials as they are slower to rot, are dryer and will add more structure to your compost. 

How often should I turn my compost?

There is no rule of thumb as to how often you should turn your compost however it is a good idea to turn it with a garden fork or similar occasionally to keep your compost aerated. If you ever put a full layer of material in, such as grass cuttings in the summer, it may be a good idea to give it a good turn.

Why isn’t my compost breaking down?

In order for the compost process to work, it requires four things. Check this list to quick start your bin:

  • food - aim for a 50/50 mix of 'greens' such as vegetable and fruit peelings and grass and browns such as shredded paper and garden leaves
  • air - all living organisms in your compost bin need air to breath and introducing more air through stirring and adding materials that will provide structure such as sweetcorn cobs will help
  • moisture - your compost should be as moist as a wrung out sponge. If it is too wet it needs more ‘browns’ and if it is too dry you could add some water or add more ‘greens’
  • warmth - usually the organisms inside the bin are responsible for this. However, you can help them retain this heat by placing a flattened cardboard box or piece of old carpet on top of the material to insulate it from within. If you still have questions, ask our champions at [email protected]

Compost wildlife sanctuary

Having a compost bin in your garden is a great habitat for invertebrates like many species of worms, ants and centipedes. These are all part of the natural process in breaking down your food and garden waste into compost so they are extremely beneficial. These can then feed our garden birds and hedgehogs.

Do compost bins attract rats?

It's a common concern that composting will bring rats into your garden, but it's unlikely that your compost bin will directly attract rats. Rats may already be in the area if you live near water, farm land, open countryside or derelict buildings.

Key things you can do to avoid unwanted wildlife

  • Avoid putting in cooked food, meat or dairy products (if you are using a standard home compost bin)
  • Add a good mix of 'greens' and 'browns' to avoid making a dry habitat
  • Be an active composter – creatures don't like disturbance, noise or changes in the physical environment in the garden
  • Use a compost bin with a lid rather than a loose heap, making it harder for creatures to gain access
  • Place the bin away from walls, fences or anywhere that can be a sheltered 'runway'
  • Use a plastic or wire mesh around the bottom and underneath the compost bin to prevent animals getting in, but still allowing worms to enter the compost bin and providing drainage.
  • Site your bin on a hard surface, such as a concrete paving slab. Plastic bases for standard home composters are also available. A base can slow down the composting process because worms and other minibeasts can't enter the bin as easily.
  • Consider an alternative type of compost bin such as a Hot Bin or wormery which are fully enclosed and therefore harder for wildlife to enter.
  • Transition Southampton have also developed two alternative measures for preventing unwanted wildlife entering your compost bin. See Transition Southampton for more details.

I have a lot of small black flies in my bin.

Fruit flies are not harmful to you or your compost. They are drawn to the food waste which they help to break down naturally. If you want to reduce their numbers, leave the lid off your compost bin for 3-4 days. If you do this, make sure to cover the surface of the compost so it doesn't dry out.

I've found spiders or ants in my bin. Is this ok?

It is perfectly normal to spot the odd spider in your bin, and to find ants but this could be a sign that your compost is too dry. Try adding some cold water to your bin. Over time, you could also add some more 'green' nitrogen rich items, such as grass cuttings and kitchen peelings, to keep moisture levels up.