Greens, browns, and moisture are the three essential components of compost. Observing a 3:1 ratio of browns to greens and maintaining moisture levels are ideal for composting at home. Feedstock that is too wet will not decompose correctly.
Here are a few seven signs that your compost is too wet:
- It takes too long to break down or doesn’t break down.
- The compost pile smells rancid.
- You can see ooze coming from the compost pile.
- There is matting of feedstock.
- Pests are present.
- The texture feels soggy, sticky, or slimy.
- There are uneven temperatures and odors in the unit.
In this article, I’ll explain the signs that your compost is too wet. I will also explore easy fixes for these issues. These fixes can be applied whether you’re composting with or without a bin, so read on!
1. It Takes Too Long To Break Down or Doesn’t Break Down
‘Compost happens,’ as the saying goes. The waiting time for your compost feed to break down can range from 90 – 120 days when you’re composting at home, regardless of whether you’re using a bin. If you’re composting a large pile of feedstock directly in the ground, the decomposition can take one year.
As the feedstock turns into compost, you’ll see the browns and greens breaking down into a rich dark brown colored compost that feels crumbly to the touch.
Moisture impacts the decomposition process in two ways. More often than not, if your compost isn’t breaking down, the problem is that you aren’t watering your compost enough, rather than your compost being too wet.
A lack of moisture leaves the microorganisms with no moisture to begin the process of decomposition. In such situations, the browns and greens stay cold and may become crumbly and dusty.
However, too much moisture can have the same effect. In the same way that underwatered and overwatered plants exhibit the same symptoms – usually browning of leaves – compost suffers in the same way whether overwatered or underwatered.
If you’ve overwatered your compost or added more greens than browns, the microorganisms trying to break the compost down will drown and die. The compost feedstock will not get broken down into compost with no microorganisms or bacteria.
If you notice that your feedstock isn’t breaking down when you check on it, you should first consider how much moisture you’ve added to the pile. If your compost pile is moist and still not breaking down, it’s likely too wet.
How To Fix
The first step to fixing your too-wet compost and maintaining the right moisture levels is to turn it. Fluff the pile with a pitchfork and turn it over to aerate your compost. This will ensure that the excess water can evaporate.
You can also add a handful of soil or old compost to inoculate your new batch. This will introduce new microbes into the feedstock and kickstart the process of decomposition in your pile.
2. The Compost Pile Smells Rancid
Good compost doesn’t smell bad, even when the feedstock breaks down. Ideally, your compost should smell sweet, like earth, rather than smelling of anything decomposed.
If your compost starts to let out a stinky smell like rotten eggs, rancid butter, or vinegar, it is likely too wet, and anaerobic decomposition has set in. Anaerobic decomposition refers to a decomposition that occurs in the absence of air or a complete lack of airflow.
Anaerobic decomposition usually smells terrible as the organic matter in the greens and browns of the feedstock aren’t being processed by bacteria as they normally do. So they simply break down on their own, releasing toxic gases into the surroundings. These gases can be harmful to people as well.
The bacteria and other microbes drown when compost is overwatered, as oxygen cannot penetrate soaked compost. This leads to anaerobic decomposition and the release of sulfurous compounds, which causes a rancid smell similar to rotten eggs or butter.
Another common odor from compost piles or bins is the smell of ammonia. Just like the staling of compost, this can be caused due to too much or too little moisture. Ammonia indicates that there is more nitrogen than necessary in the feedstock.
The release of these gases may turn your compost combustible and cause your compost bin to blow over.
How To Fix
The best way to fix and prevent stinky odors is to improve overall aeration to kickstart aerobic decomposition and add more carbon to balance out the nitrogen is to add more browns to your feedstock.
Bringing the ratio of your feedstock back to 3:1 of browns to greens should address the smell over time. Fluff and turn your compost after adding the browns, and add a final, thick layer that covers the greens completely until the odor is no longer apparent.
The browns will contain the odors as they dissipate and improve the overall aeration of your feedstock, so it breaks down correctly into compost. Check the compost again after one to two weeks, turn your compost, and add additional browns when necessary.
If you don’t have dried leaves or twigs, you can add torn-up cardboard and untreated paper to your compost pile as browns.
3. You Can See Ooze Coming From the Compost Pile
The moisture levels in compost should be the equivalent the feel of a wrung-out sponge. So compost with the ideal degree of moisture will feel damp to the touch when you grab a pile in your hands and squeeze easily. However, if your compost drips as you squeeze it, it is likely too wet.
Liquid seeping from your compost pile or bin is also a clear sign that your compost is too wet. In such cases, the moisture levels need to be addressed before anaerobic decomposition.
However, this ooze is different from the deliberate leachate or ‘compost tea’ created by steeping finished compost in water. Compost tea is made using finished compost and is not a by-product of the composting process.
Any liquid produced as a result of the greens in the feedstock breaking down should be absorbed by the browns. If your compost is dripping or oozing, it is too wet.
The likely causes of an oozing compost could be watering the compost too often, an imbalance in the brown to green ratio, or rains.
How To Fix
To fix oozing compost, you need to add extra browns to absorb the excess moisture, then fluff it to ensure that the browns are evenly distributed through the dripping compost. Then you can cover your pile or bin with a tarp made of good quality, reusable plastic. This will prevent the rain from getting into the pile.
Covering compost also helps increase the overall temperature within the pile, which helps the microbes break the compost down. The hotter the compost, the faster it will break down, so covering your bin has multiple advantages.
Ensure that you maintain the correct ratio of browns to greens in the compost pile, adding more browns as necessary to compost that is too wet to bring it to equilibrium.
4. There is Matting of Feedstock
Matting of feedstock refers to clumps of compost that are sticky, smelly, and otherwise unlike the rest of the compost in terms of smell, texture, and composition.
The matting is usually caused by layers of greens sticking together. This sticking can be caused by the improper layering of the compost, differences in the speed of decomposition, and excess moisture in specific portions of your compost pile.
Proper layering the greens and browns of the compost is essential to ensuring that the compost feedstock breaks down evenly and results in a homogenous mixture that is not wet or soggy.
The right way to layer feedstock is to start with a thick layer of browns, including twigs, sticks, dried leaves, sawdust, untreated cardboard, and paper. The browns can be followed up with a layer of greens, followed by a layer of browns.
The greens comprise your kitchen scraps like vegetable peels and food waste and yard clippings like grass. These greens are the source of both nitrogen and moisture for your compost, though you may need to water your compost if your greens have insufficient moisture.
Layering the greens and browns like a lasagna in the right ratio is important for several reasons.
- The browns trap the odors of the greens breaking down, which keeps pests and animals away from the compost.
- The layering ensures an even distribution of nitrogen and carbon throughout the compost.
- It also ensures an even distribution of moisture.
It is easy for the greens in the feedstock to clump up when they’re added to the compost pile since the greens are rich in moisture. Vegetable peels and grass clippings can stick to each other resulting in matting. This matted mass of greens results in a lump of concentrated moisture, causing your compost to be too wet in clumps.
While these matted clumps of greens may eventually break down into compost, they slow the entire process down and release harmful gases. The stagnation in these matted greens may also bring the compost temperature down, slowing the process further.
How To Fix
The simplest way to fix a clump of matted, too wet compost is to break up the clump with a rake and incorporate more browns into your compost feedstock.
To keep you compost from being too wet, you should turn the pile regularly, as this will help aerate the compost and allow you to break up and mix any matting that occurs among the greens.
Separating the matting of greens removes the clumps of moisture and ensures that any excess moisture is absorbed by the browns.
After fixing your matted feedstock, you can maintain your compost by ensuring that you sandwich your layers of greens between two thick layers of browns.
5. Pests are Present
There are two different kinds of pests associated with compost. The first is larger pests like rodents, raccoons, and house pets. You may even find that your compost attracts bears.
The presence of larger pests like these indicates that the smell of your compost is leaking out of our composting unit, attracting hungry rodents and raccoons to an easy source of food. While you should rodent-proof your bin with wire mesh or hardware cloth, you should also consider what is attracting the pests to your composting unit.
If your compost is too wet, it might have caused anaerobic decomposition, which results in extremely smelly compost that attracts rodents and other pests. Wet compost might also leak liquids from the pile or bin, attracting pests.
The other kind of pests that you might find in your compost are invertebrates and bugs. This includes pill bugs or roly-polies, ants, centipedes and millipedes, earthworms, bees, wasps, and flies.
In most situations, these invertebrates and bugs support the process of compost formation and are essential to enriching the texture and nutritional value of your compost. The only truly dangerous bugs are the wasps, which settle into your compost when it is not turned regularly and can attack you when they’re fully grown.
However, if you find that your compost is overrun with these invertebrates, they could be classified as pests. The presence of these pests indicates something about the environment of your compost, and addressing that concern is the easiest way to fix the problem.
The presence of ants, especially fire ants, indicates that your compost is too dry, and you need to keep your compost moist. If you spot pillbugs and sowbugs, centipedes and millipedes, or white worms, aka maggots, in your compost, that’s an indication that your compost is too wet.
How To Fix
To get rid of white worms from your compost or any other invertebrates that thrive in wet compost, you should add more browns to your compost mixture. The browns like dried leaves, sawdust, twigs, and untreated cardboard will absorb much of the moisture. The lack of moisture will stop the larvae from thriving, eventually killing them.
Maintaining a good ratio of browns to greens and turning your compost regularly will take care of most pest-related issues that develop from too much moisture in your compost.
6. The Texture Feels Soggy, Sticky, or Slimy
Good compost is crumbly, with the texture of loamy soil. The compost should feel damp to the touch, like a wrung-out sponge. If your compost is dripping, soggy, sticky, or slimy, then that indicates that your compost is too wet. The ideal moisture percentage for your compost is about 40 – 60%.
Multiple reasons may cause the moisture in your compost, but the most likely reason is that your compost doesn’t have enough air circulation. If your compost pile has poor air circulation, the microbes that breakdown the organic feedstock will have insufficient oxygen.
The lack of oxygen kills off the microbes, which would have otherwise raised the temperature of the compost with their activities, speeding up the process of aerobic decomposition. Anaerobic decomposition sets in when the microbes die, resulting in cold, slimy, soggy compost.
How to Fix
The easiest fix for poorly ventilated compost is to check the air holes in your bin to ensure that they aren’t blocked in any way. The next step is to turn the compost well and keep turning it every one to two weeks, depending on how quickly the compost recovers and becomes dry and crumbly.
Another reason your compost might be slimy or soggy is having an unbalanced ratio of browns to greens or rainy weather. Bringing the balance of your composting feedstock to 3:1 and covering it with a tarp to protect it from the rains will fix too wet compost.
7. There Are Uneven Temperatures and Odors in the Unit
If you find varying temperatures and smells in your composting unit, it is very likely that your compost is too wet in spots and mixed unevenly.
Compost typically smells earthy and sweet. Sulfurous odors indicate anaerobic decomposition, as we’ve discussed earlier. If you smell this odor in parts of your composting feedstock, there’s likely some matting of your greens resulting in pockets of too wet, cold, and slimy compost.
Another way that your compost could get too wet and cause uneven temperatures and odors is an issue with the airflow channels of your composting unit. Check the air holes for blockages. If the air holes are fine, your compost bin might be full.
In addition, a too wet compost can also cause uneven temperatures and odors when the pile of composting feedstock is too high. The height of the compost increases the temperatures while the moisture pulls it down.
A compost pile that is too high can’t reach an equilibrium in temperatures, resulting in uneven temperatures throughout the pile. The varying temperatures result in the differential breakdown of the organic feedstock, so you’ll have pockets of well-composted organic feedstock at the right temperature. At the same time, the rest may be too hot and dry and extremely wet, cold, and soggy.
How To Fix
One way to fix a compost pile that has uneven temperatures and odors because it is too wet and piled too high is by adding some of your feedstock to a second composting unit and allowing the first bin to finish decomposition.
Turning your compost to mix and aerate will ensure that your compost doesn’t stay too wet due to the matting of greens can also help reduce the problem.