For materials to break down properly into compost, your pile needs to have things like the correct mix, temperature, and conditions. There are reasons why compost will not break down, signs that you can look out for, ways to improve decomposition, and equipment to help. These considerations include:
The time of year is a major factor in composting. Materials decompose much faster in the warmer months, slow down in the cooler months, and almost grind to a halt in winter. This is because heat helps to decompose waste much faster. If summer has finished, you will notice that the process will dramatically slow down.
The pile is too wet, and the material is like sludge
When your compost pile is too wet and sludgy, it lacks oxygen and will struggle to breathe. Two types of microorganisms are responsible for breaking down organic matter. Microorganisms that need high amounts and low amounts of oxygen, and are called aerobic and anaerobic.
For compost to break down properly, you need to have a pile that satisfies aerobic life form. This means that you need to make sure that your pile has a sufficient amount of oxygen within it.
To fix this problem, you need to regularly turn the compost pile every week, and you need to punch a hole in it to drain it. The best way to do this is with a fork, or with a compost aerator. You can also go further and use a rotating compost tumbler instead of a bin, which will ensure that you keep your pile aerated well.
Your compost smells terrible
This is usually a sign that your compost pile has become too wet, meaning it has gone anaerobic. Several factors can lead to this condition, which includes too much water, carbon to nitrogen imbalance, and lack of aeration. This lack of oxygen makes the material stagnate and become smelly.
To fix this problem is similar to the last one. Make sure that the pile has enough oxygen in it by turning and aerating it. You also have to dry it out and stop it from smelling. This can be done by adding dried leaves, sawdust, and dry grass, etc to the pile, and then mixing it in. Afterward, cover the top of the pile with something like shredded paper or cardboard to help mask the smell.
An incorrect mixture to the pile or the browns not breaking down
For the breakdown process to work properly, you need to have a nice balance of green and brown waste. Green and brown wastes are nitrogen and carbon materials that you put into the pile. Both types should be included for decomposition to take place better, and also to prevent it from smelling.
Greens are nitrogen-rich materials like kitchen waste and fresh lawn clippings. Browns are carbon-rich materials such as dry garden waste (dry lawn clippings, dead leaves, etc) and sawdust, etc. A good starting point to shoot for is approximately 20 or 30 times more browns than greens and then adjust accordingly.
Having a good mixture of them both help to encourage microbial life in the pile, to help speed up the composting process. If you notice any browns (e.g dead leaves) struggling to decompose, try adding some greens.
Your compost is too dry, hot or caught fire
If you have too much green waste in the pile, you can potentially overheat it, and in very extreme (but not common) circumstances catch fire. You may also notice that your pile is too dry. To help with these issues, you can turn, aerate, add some browns, and moisten the materials with water. Doing this will cool it down, give it oxygen, and make it less dry.
Not enough bugs, worms and microbial life
Bugs, worms and other microorganisms are essential if you want the compost to break down quickly. If you turn your pile and look into the middle of it, you should notice creepy crawlers inside. For them to thrive, you need to ensure that they have the correct living conditions.
Having the correct mix of greens, browns, and moisture will encourage them to your compost. If you notice a lack of life within your compost or if you have just started a new pile, you can benefit from adding material from a more established compost pile. You can also buy some red wiggler worms from a store or online, and add them manually.
Compost materials are too large
Smaller pieces of compostable material break down much faster than larger pieces. When you add anything to the pile, chop them up before you put them in. It doesn’t take much effort to make the pieces smaller, and you will help aid the decomposition process.
Other ways to speed up the composting process
Two other ways to help speed up the process is by adding some well-rotted manure, or by using a hot composter instead of a standard bin. Manure is a nitrogen-rich green waste that can be added to make the decomposition faster (but don’t overdo it). A hot composter can produce compost much faster than a traditional bin because it reaches higher temperatures throughout the year.