How to Revive a Nonperforming Compost Pile

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When it comes to organic matter, compost is la creme de la creme. Making a big batch of the stuff is fairly simple: The key is striking the right balance of 3 parts dry, high-carbon (aka brown) material to 1 part succulent, high-nitrogen (aka green) material. Still, even when you've got the numbers just so, things can go awry.

If animals are raiding the compost pile, grind up fruits and vegetables in a blender before you add them to pile, or bury them in center.

If some pieces are not breaking down, take them out, chop them up and put them back in. Generate heat by adding more "green" material, such as manure, fresh grass clippings, alfalfa meal or seaweed.

Occasionally nature will not take its course and will need some assistance. For those times when nothing is breaking down, try to add water until center is evenly moist in case the pile is dry.

In dry climates, cover pile with a tarpaulin to hold in moisture, and check frequently. If pile is moist, add "greens" and turn pile.

If it smells like ammonia and feels moist but not soggy, add more "brown" material, such as straw, shredded paper, leaves or sawdust, and turn pile.

If it smells bad and feels soggy, add "browns" and turn pile. In wet climates, cover pile with a tarpaulin to keep off rain.

If a small pile doesn't heat up, or heats up only in the center, enlarge pile. It needs to be at least 3 square feet (1 m) to generate necessary heat.

When a large pile doesn't heat up and feels moist, add "greens" and turn pile.

Sometimes new pile will heat up but cool off before most of the material has decomposed. In those cases, turn the pile with a garden fork until all material is thoroughly mixed together.

When a matted layer on top doesn't break down, turn pile, breaking up matted material and mixing it in thoroughly.

If seedlings are growing on top, Pull them up. If they're flowers or vegetables, transplant them. If they're weeds that have set seed, destroy them; otherwise, chop them up and mix them into pile.

Add more "greens" to generate heat and kill any remaining seeds.

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