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Troubleshooting compost problems

Are you having compost problems? Never fear, we have assembled some of our hottest tips to get your compost heap at its best in no time... 

Gloucestershire Recycles has a fabulous team of volunteer 'master composters'. If you have any questions for them that aren't answered here, please email


The problem: I can't get in my heap to turn my compost over, there isn't enough room to move it. 

The solution: If you can get a fork in just enough to jiggle and remove the compaction this can help add air to your compost and can help even if you aren't able to do a full turn, if you can move your heap around a little every couple of months this is better than not moving it at all. Microbes, bugs and worms will do a lot of the work churning the compost and will help out. 

Adding scrunched up carboard to your bin can help by creating air pockets or you could try adding some more brown material as a 'bulking agent'.

If you have a classic 'Dalek' style bin find more tips on managing your compost.

You can also purchase a compost bin that will turn compost for you, these are usually in a barrel shape and you can just roll the barrel to mix the compost. 

The problem: My compost has been sat there for ages and hasn't broken down, it is just a tub of old grass clippings. 

The solution: There are normally 3 things you can do to improve your compost

  1. Add some air
  2. Add some water
  3. Balance your greens and browns better

Bonus - Having a hotter bin can also help, you could try adding a layer of insulation to your compost bin or buying a hot bin. 

Find out more about breaking your compost down.

The problem: My compost has broken down but is slimy and smells bad, it isn't like the sweet smelling dry matter you promised would come out of the compost heap! 

The solution: Too much water could be getting in to your heap. Try covering it over, especially in winter, you can use a tarp or a few layers of cardboard on top (remember to weight them down.) 

It could also be a problem with the balance of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) matter that you are adding, you need to get an even balance of both to get perfect compost. 

You can try drying out your compost heap by adding very dry material such as ripped up cardboard. 

The problem: Rodents (rats and mice) are getting into my compost. 

The solution: There are a number of ways to keep rodents out of your pile: 

1. Bury food items in the centre of the compost rather than adding them on top. If this doesn't work consider keeping food scraps out of your pile altogether and use your food waste recycling service instead, focussing on garden waste in your compost bin. 

2. Keep the pile moist to make it less appealing as a place for rodents to live. 

3. Plant mint? This tip is untested by the team but apparently mint is an effective deterrent for keeping rodents away. Let us know if you have tried and tested this tip and if it is effective! 

Gardeners' World have made this handy video with more tips for keeping rats out of your heap. 

The problem: I have heard hot compost bins can catch fire and cause issues. 

The solution: A well managed compost bin shouldn't catch fire. Large compost piles do get very hot, commercial composting sites use windrow composting and these piles can get up to 65 degrees Celsius. Watch the life cycle of compost:

Bins at home do get hot but shouldn't get hot enough to catch fire but there is a chance they could if an ignition source was nearby. 

 Well managed piles should not catch fire, remember to: 

  • Keep your pile moist, if you are worried that it is too dry and could be a fire risk take a watering can or hose and add a bit more moisture
  • Keep a good balance of green and brown materials 
  • Keep turning the pile so the heat dissipates

The problem: The compost bin is dry and isn't breaking down. 

The solution: Keep a handy watering can near by and add some moisture when needed. 

You can also try and add more wet green material and don't add additional brown material for a while.

The problem: Maggots and flies are coming out of my compost bin and it doesn't seem hygienic. 

The solution: There are a number of things you can do to get rid of maggots if you want to, although they can be good for the break down of your compost: 

  • Try spraying them with a diluted vinegar solution 
  • Add more brown materials to dry your compost out further, don't add green matter for a while 

Ants can also be a pain in a compost pile but they aren't necessarily bad for it, they aerate the pile and can help break down the compost. 

Ants prefer dry environments so add more wet matter and greens to get rid of them.

compostLinks to further advice

Do you need more tips on getting better compost? Try the links below to some pages that have excellent advice on creating perfect compost: 

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