Most common compost problems are quite simple to resolve, if you know the right tricks. As the interest in organic gardening and waste reduction continues to grow, many people are learning the value of composting at home. Compost is the nutrient-rich organic result of decomposed yard and kitchen waste. Although based on simple concepts, composting properly and effectively can be tricky. Here are a few hints that will help turn you into a composting expert.

What’s that Strange Smell?

Your compost pile should have a strong but rich odor that smells slightly sweet. If it has developed a smell of sulfur (rotten eggs), the problem is either a lack of oxygen or excess moisture. Turn the pile and add bulk such as wood chips. If you detect an ammonia smell, your compost likely has too much nitrogen. In that case, add carbon-rich materials like hay or leaves. If the smell is just plain rotten, anaerobic microbes may have taken over due to a lack of oxygen. Turn your compost pile often to resolve (and avoid) this smelly problem.

Too Hot, Too Cold or Just Right?

The secret to successful composting is maintaining a temperature of about 150 degrees at the center of the pile. Aerobic bacteria (the beneficial element that breaks down compost ingredients) require ample oxygen to thrive. Without it, the compost will be too cool, attracting bugs, encouraging weed growth and causing a foul odor. Turn the pile often and, if it’s too cool, add nitrogen-rich products such as manure, blood meal or grass clippings. If the pile is too hot, it may be too large. Ideal size for a healthy compost pile ranges between 3 cubed feet and 5 cubed feet.

Composting During Winter Months

The cold winters of northern Utah can wreak havoc with compost, causing the bacterial breakdown to stop. Increase your pile size in colder months and try insulating its surface with a layer of straw. Some veteran composters use a black composting bin in the winter, placing it in a sunny location to help the process along. Be sure to keep the compost moisture level regulated. Grab a handful of compost and squeeze. If beads of moisture form between your fingers, it’s perfect. If water drips out, turn the pile frequently to dry it out a bit. If no moisture forms, add a bit of water a little at a time until the consistency is right.

If composting isn’t practical for you, Millcreek Gardens in Salt Lake City carries a variety of natural and organic products including soil, soil conditioner, mulch and fertilizer. Their experienced staff can help you find the right solution to any common compost problems you may encounter.