What Makes a Perfect Pile? The Secret Is in the Mix

There are several problems that you may encounter once your compost pile is up and running. Here are common troubles and solutions.

The pile isn't heating up: "It's too wet, too dry or doesn't have enough nitrogen," says applied ecologist Bill Roley of Laguna Beach. "If it's too wet, add dry absorbent ingredients such as sawdust and turn it. If it's too dry, add water, but don't saturate."

If there isn't enough nitrogen, turn it and add material rich in nitrogen, such as manure or blood meal.

Compost pit smells rotten: "It is too wet and not getting enough oxygen," says Roley. "You want to turn the pile to aerate it and add dry absorbent materials."

The pile is letting off an ammonia odor: You have too much nitrogen. Turn the pile and add sawdust. Or it is too alkaline. In that case, turn it and add acid materials such as coffee grounds and citrus.

"Composting is like wine making," says Roley. "The key is to not put in too much of one thing. You want to create a fine balance."

The Fullerton Arboretum has several compost methods on display. Call (714) 773-3579 for more information. Roley conducts composting workshops. Call (714) 494-5843.

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