ok, what am i doing wrong?

Raleigh, NC

new to composting. I thought these black fancy bins were supposed to work faster? not! How do I get it to "heat up"?

sis brought me a black bin composter. we filled it with fallen leaves, browned and fresh weeds, veggie scraps, aged horse manure (a bit of fresh, too) and fresh lawn clippings. added more oak leaves and fresh weeds all summer whenever space permitted. Weeds wee growing out the aeration slots!

end of summer, I lifted the bin and re-forked everything back in in reverse order. my version of turning it. I do scratch about a bit to rearrange the top, but can't go too deep, when I add new material. my shoulders can't take torque. after every rain I poured in any collected water. It did get dry once.

there are glorious weeds growing out the sides again. when I turned it last fall, it hadn't made much progress, maybe and inch or two of 'black soil" which I put back in to help restart.

so? is there something I"m not doing or doing wrong, some reason weeds are growing and "black dirt" isn't? a year later, I still see fibers intact.

Am trying again with a 4' wire fencing circle. do I need to grind everything up? no shredder. does it need more water? have shoulder problems from hauling buckets. Please don't tell me it needs more sun - it's already got a partial sun space, almost the best I have available. only once did it feel warm.

Winston Salem, NC

Here are some suggestions:

Be careful when you put weeds in. If they are flowering and have seed pods they will sprout and you will get more weeds. .

Horse manure also has weed seeds from the hay so it's good to be sure it is well rotted before putting in the bin. Cow etc. manure is better if you can get it; in any case manure of almost any kind (except dog and cat) is great to get the pile to heat up.

The leaves might also be the problem. If they are oak leaves they will not break down for a long time. Shred them if you can but I always put them in without shredding and it works.

There is a wonderful tool called the compost crank which really helps in the aeration and doesn't hurt your back. I need to find out where you can get it and get back to you. It's the best tool I've ever used for composting (a good fork is next best). Don't forget, compost does take time but in the summer you should be getting good results in due time. You should not have to move it into the sun. A pile will heat up without full sun. If the conditions are right, the micro organisms and the worms will create the energy for the heat. Good luck. I have two blogspots with sections on composting. See psumcearthgarden.blogspot.com and kirbyplant.blogspot.com

Raleigh, NC

thanks sawpalm.

it's not my back, it's any twisting motion requiring torqueing pressure on rotator cuffs (shoulders) back is just fine (well, there is some C5 and T5 damage) I fell forward down a short wooden steps after Hurricane Bertha, grabbed the railings. both arms ended, my 200 lbs moving against them, above my head behind me, ripped them good. reinjured both hauling the water buckets.

so any fork I can lift (just not over my head). i can lift the bin off, I can fork the contents back in, not fun but can do in small bits. I can insert a fork, and there it ends. No twisting or rotating the inserted fork. does this make a big differnce? I volunteer down at Juniper Level BG, and wish I had their backhoe for "turning" a compost pile. now that I could do!

YES 0 oak leaves. lots of others, too. lots of pine straw. sounds like I'm going to need that shredder after all. think I'll ask around

Savannah, GA

I dont' see how a black compost bin would be any faster than a wire circle if it's not a tumbler type. I use a wire bin. I made a plastic cover that goes around the wire sides to reduce evaporation and keep it damp. Pee really helps it get hot, it was the first time I had a steaming pile!

My shoulder is still healing from surgery in sept. I started improving from what it was (torn cartilege and somethign with the labrum) pretty quick but I guess it has been messed up for years because I continue to be able to do stuff I havn't done in years! The other night I scratched my own back, higher than I have in years! I could barely dress myself for awhile.

I fork my compost out of the ring through an opening I make at the end, and kind of mix it the best I can and put it back in. It works pretty good.

I used to have a wire ring bin but the ring was small, I think it was too small to get hot in the middle. My best one now is about 6 feet diameter, I think it was a 10 or 15 foot roll. The other is larger. I save my leaves and other yard waste, then transfer it to the other bin to get mixed with kitchen scraps and more greens. I cut up my kitchen scraps, stuff like coffee filters and banana peels and stuff. I've been having a problem with red ants though.

I would go back to the wire ring or get a tumbling composter if I were you. I throw everything in mine had havent gotten a big weed crop yet. Sometimes something will grow on the edge. I have a small hand rack I use to bury my kitchen scraps so the top of my pile gets tossed somewhat.

Raleigh, NC

well, mine is going to have weed seed. I have too much to always get to before it goes to seed. maybe this is too small to get hot and the wire will do better for me.

Plant delights piles theirs very very high. Jeremy says so it gets hot. I'll have to try higher. I certainly have enough stuff to fill it. DH flung about 100 trees worth of leaves down a drainage area. not easy to go after, will have to do it before the snakes come out.

Norristown, PA(Zone 6b)

Bonjon, I also have limited back and shoulder capability and have found the Compost Crank very helpful. This is where mine was purchased:


Raleigh, NC

thanks, but that's the kind of thing I just haven't been able to use, it requires sideways torque

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Bonjon, take a look at the Yard Butler aerator:


You jab it into the pile and pull it straight out. No torque required.

Raleigh, NC

NOW that might work. thanks

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

You're welcome. I like mine; it's relatively easy to use while sitting in my wheelchair.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Our local compost queen says none of those black plastic composters let in enough air. She told us to get 1 " drill bits for our drills and cut holes all over the place.

I got the bit but never did the drilling! I just let the compost sit until I figure its done - 3-5 years!

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

I have stuff in my composter. I put it all in over the weekend. It is sort of layered in right now. How long should I wait before I turn it? How often should I turn it? I have some plant trimmings, rabbit droppings, coffee and filters, a few leaves, and some shredded paper.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

It depends (I know, that's unsatisfying). I turn mine if it doesn't heat up, or after it cools off. Is your composter hot yet?

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

Well, I doubt it, but not to sound stupid, but exactly how would I know? I realize that if large amounts of steam were coming off that would be an indicator, but I figured it would take a while to heat up and since I just started a couple of days ago, I didn't think so.

Raleigh, NC

^_^ now that I know. the one at Plant Delights (a small hill of compost) does just that, it steams, and even in November I could walk by and feel the heat coming from it.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

I stick a compost thermometer into my pile. Nice & clean, no digging required.


If the temp's over 100F I leave things alone. Otherwise, I aerate it with my Yard Butler and check the moisture level (ideal = like a wrung-out sponge).

Basically, you just need browns, greens, moisture, air, & ambient temps above freezing. The microherd will do the rest.

UPDATE: If this is your very first batch, try tossing in a clump or two of soil from your property to "seed" the composter with your local microbes. Otherwise, just toss in some finished compost from the previous batch. Gotta have the microherd to get things cookin'!

This message was edited Mar 23, 2009 3:10 PM

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

Well, I think I have all those things. I do need to check the moisture level. I think I will open it this afternoon, check the moisture level and likely give it a stir. I should be able to tell if it is 100F. If it is not hot and I stir it, should I give it a couple more days and check it again or do it daily or how often?

BTW, thanks for all the help.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Before you spend more energy & time on your compost, consider reading this thread first:


It'll all rot soon enough. :)

Raleigh, NC

well, that comment about the black bins not getting enough air might be the problem. especially with new and very healthy weeds growing out all the air vents!

thought I'd try the wire, but realize I gave the wire to my sister. so will go on craigslist and locate some free pallets. there are usually some around town. but that part about wiring them together? haven't a clue how to do that.

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

Okay, it has come to my attention today that composting is not for the squeamish! I went out to turn my pile and found what I believe to be maggots. So my question is, are they supposed to be there. I am sure what happened is that the rabbit droppings that I was given sat out over night without a cover. When I went to pick them up, there were flies on them and now I figure that is where the maggots have come from. They were on there as maggots when I put the droppings in the composter. One place I read say that it was fine and part of the process and one place I read said, I should add more browns because the pile must be too moist. So please HELP!

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

I went ahead and added some shredded newspaper to the mix and stirred it all up. The interesting part is that the rabbit droppings that are still in the covered bin with no aeration don't have the maggots. I would have thought they would all have the same thing. I am guessing they are maggots. I am sure that they came from the rabbit droppings.

Savannah, GA

Here are mine. This one is the "hold" pile. It's my excess yard debris. I don't put kitchen waste in this one.

This message was edited Mar 23, 2009 9:17 PM

Thumbnail by margocstn
Savannah, GA

Here is the "working" pile. I keep it moist and it has plastic around the sides so it doesn't dry out too much. I put kitchen scraps here and other rapidly decomposting stuff, stuff that might smell a little. The only thing bad I have gotten is ants. I got some ant killer, mostly because my doggies were getting ant bites. I only used a little but it seems to have worked. This is the pile that gets harvested for the yard and garden. I also turn it every now and then. I can open it up and fork the stuff out of it.

Thumbnail by margocstn
Savannah, GA

The next time I empty it I am going to move it by the other pile, they are on opposite sides of the yard right now. That's because I started out with one pile and no raised bed. I only have so many sunny spots in the yard so I made the raised bed where I could. I am going to move the compost piles next to each other and put another raised bed by that one. Behind it all is a bed of elephant ears and canna lilies that look all pretty and tropical in the summer but I'm afraid I am going to have to alter that now. I am going to remove the elephant ears and make a canna lily bed in the middle only.

Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

If your compost isn't heating, something in your method if "off". For it to work properly, you need the proper C:N ratio (or close), proper moisture, and adequate air. I've used black plastic bins for probably 20 years and they can indeed work very well.

My bin usually heats to 150 after adding fresh material, flipping, and adjusting moisture. Heat theoretically kills seeds but if you get sprouts, flip, and bury the stuff it will be killed.
This is the temp in one of my bins.


Thumbnail by kqcrna
Raleigh, NC

ok, so back then to my original questions:

does this black bin have to be in full sun? Because I have tons of tall trees, oaks and pines and full sun space is in full use with fun sun plants. all that's going to be available to the bin is dappled sun at best, probably more like bright partial shade. There's irises beside it that are only blooming so-so because not enough light. I'm in zone 7

I used a 60 brown/40 green mix, but had a lot of green in the summer (pulled weeds) and had piles of it sitting next to the bin, these went about half brown, or slimy, before I added them. We always have tons of brown to add, too.

also note I put in horse manure, aged. some kitchen scraps (banana peels, not meat or bone)

Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

I asked about the full sun on another thread and was told no. Since most of the heating is done internally by the microbes, full sun wasn't necessary.

As far as ratios, well I haven't gotten that figured out. I think I have figured out how to fix problems, but not how to avoid them.

Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

Compost doesn't need full sun, heat comes from the composting organisms. Especially in your warm climate, ambient temp should have little effect. There are people in Canada and even Alaska who get steaming hot compost in winter.

Your compost ingredients sound fine, but more important is the ratio. Shoot for a C:N ratio of 30:1. Correct moisture is equally important. The only way to get that, I find, is to flip the whole mess and add moisture as I go. It's nearly impossible to add it from the top and get it even all the way to the bottom.

Frequent flipping (once every week or two) helps a lot. It's not necessary- things will rot eventually if left untouched but can take a much longer time. Chopping things into smaller pieces helps, too. No one can really give you a magic pill to get it cooking. I think it is, in essence, a learn-on-the-job thing. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy.

Generally speaking, all other things (air, moisture) being equal, lack of heat often means you're lacking nitrogen. Too much, though, can make it slimy and stinky. If you've flipped it, got even moisture (damp as a wrung out sponge, not wet) you might try adding more nitrogen and just see what happens. If it gets stinky, add more carbon.

IMO, none of these compost aeration gizmos will work like physically forking the whole thing to a new spot. Not an option for some folks, but if you are physically able, that seems to work better than anything. I bought one of those winged things years ago and I find it pretty useless. If you have weeds coming out the side air vents it sounds like it hasn't been turned in a very long time.

bonjon, are you able to flip the compost? Or can your spouse do it for you?

Also, if you've not seen it, the Florida online tutorials are pretty good.


Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

I have an elderly neighbor who composts everything possible! She chops everything into small pieces and she used to ( until she injured an arm) play in it pretty much every day with an antique 3 prong pitch fork ! She doesn't concern herself with ratios or core temps , uses bins made from wooden boards - they are in a mostly shady spot until late afternoon, open on top and produces lovely compost every year!

Me I just fill up the bins - kitchen waste, leaves, some yard waste if I am trimming perennials, occasionally grass clippings and moisture if it is very dry and let it sit. Clean em out every 3-4 years. They only produce enough compost for the veggie garden anyway and I dont have the space to compost larger amounts

Raleigh, NC

well, kqc, now I'm even more confused. you mention a ratio of C to N of 30:1, but then you say with my 3:2 ratio I might need more N? to get the 30:1, won't I need more dead leaves? or do I need more nitrogen as in more green weeds?

for instance, I've just now weeded 15 irises, pulling off the blown on dead leaves (mostly oak) at the same time. there's soil on the weed roots, too, as we have a lot of spring weeds that send out runners. I've filled two bushel baskets. they are about 60:40 brown falled leaves to weeds with soil by volume, probably the reverse by weight (or higher for weeds due to soil weight). That took me 1 hr. there are 900+ irises left to weed, so there's a lot of waste. [We also have two storm drainage ravines full of leaves from this past fall and winter.]

Therefor, my black bin cannot keep up with me, but it might if it was getting hot. It's never been hot.

Prior to the black bin, I used a loose pile, but that's wasn't satifactory: it's too hard to turn (with my shoulder damage), it blows around too easily, and it seems to be providing haven to vermin, attracting them to the yard, including snakes, skunks, bunnies ,etc.

Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

There are just so many variables. I use volume as a guide, not weight.

It's not just what's usd but the volume of each that should aim at being 30:1. Say you have 2 cu ft of grass clippings (C:N ratio 15:1). If you're using leaves, it will obviously take more leaves with a C:N ratio of 60:1 than it would sawdust with a C:N ratio of 600:1.
Does that make sense?

Also, it works best to build a lot at once rather than a few handfuls all the time. Also particle size. How big are your pieces of weeds or whatever.?

If your problem isn't C:N ratio, it's probably either moisture or air.


Raleigh, NC

all good comments and questions.

it's likely I'll need DH to do the turning in the future, as it's beyond my shoulder strength.

gotcha on the ratios. we don't get much in the way of grass clippings, but the entire back yard is mostly nice green weeds we mow!

As for how small 0 NOT small at all except where we mow. have no good way to grind them. used to try that with the mower running across them, and it messed up the mower real bad. And took me hours to unwind the fibers from beneath the blade. we ended up buying a mower, and I've been buying compost since then too, as I finally gave up making any.

I've been pouring water in the top of the bin. sounds like that isn't doing much good either. I was out there just now, and old veggies tossed out smelling horrid in there. lots of baby mosquitos, too, and flies.

Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

Mosquitoes and flies = probably too wet on top.

For big plants and weeds, I just chop them up with pruning sheers. Things like banana peels I chop with a knife before taking outside. And I don't throw in weed seeds. I just trash the seed heads and compost the rest of the plant.

Did you go through that Florida compost tutorial? I think it's worthwhile.


Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

Another online tool that might help with ratios is a compost calculator. There are many if you google, here's one


Houston, TX(Zone 9b)

I am happy to report that when I went to check the composter today and make sure that I got the paper from yesterday mixed in pretty well, I noticed just the slightest amount of STEAM! YEAH!

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Betcha it'll be hot within 24 hours.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Puzzle pieces==
=Dry tree leaves---I think I'm only just now appreciating that it takes a lot to re-wet a bunch of dry tree leaves. When you sprinkle water on, it seems to run through. I bet a lot does. Adding soil may help re- wet the leaves by sticking to them.
=You'll get a lot of heat quickly from a pile of fresh grass clippings. That's N and moisture and limited air because it packs tightly.. Then it cooks it dry, or ends up slimy in the middle, from no oxygen.

Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

Congratulations, shuggins.

Getting compost hot does take some practice and experimentation.


Raleigh, NC

we have very little in GRASS clippings per se available. are they essential? can't I use the mowed weed clippings? our back "yard" is a "lawn" of mowed weed, about 1/3 acre: I see nutgrass, clover, @#$#$ volunteer bermuda, crabgrass, winter weeds, chickweed, wild strawberries, etc. the only problem with this is of course that blasted bermuda - biggest weed problem in the irises!

so little grass because I am allergic. In four years, have removed almost half the "real" zoysia grass lawn, planted irises. since irises grow without mulch, I have tons of weeding to do. Daily have at least 2 bushels of whole green weeds to add to the pile.

that's too many weeds to even remotely try to denude them of flowers or seeds - that would take longer than weeding! Hence, I need a hot pile to kill the seed.

when weeding, I try to go after all the root I can. plenty of soil on those roots. our "soil" is hard solid red clay. lots of clods of it get put in the pile with the weeds- I'd say 1/2 to 1/3 of the physical weight in my bushel baskets is clay. Do does there need to be more than that? even though I'm using manure too?

Florida tutorial? where?

Cincinnati, OH(Zone 6a)

No, grass isn't essential, it's just something that many folks have in abundance. Weed seeds probably aren't a good idea, at least not until your compost is hot.

Florida tutorial, posted above. I think it's good anyway.

It's interesting to play with those online calculators, too, like the one I posted above. It can give you idea, based on C:N ratios, of what kind of mix is beneficial for different ingredients, including manure.


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