How do I deal with an out-of-control compost pile?

Ames asks: How do I deal with an out-of-control compost pile?

I’m looking for some advice on how to deal with my big mess of a compost pile.

We just moved into a house in southeast PA and the local trash service does not collect yard waste, so we inherited two large compost bins full of yard waste. The bins are at least a few years old, so one would think that by now there might be some gorgeous, yummy compost in there somewhere, but no…all we have is a whole lot of very slowly decaying woody trimmings, piles of weeds (many with seed heads…yikes!), and tons of grass clippings that take up at least half of one bin. From what I understand about composting, this mix just ain’t good. 😉

The bins are made of wood and chicken wire. They’re about 5′ wide x 5′ deep x 5′ tall each with boards nailed all around the bottom up to 3 feet off the ground…so no getting to the compost easily even if there were some. The chicken wire runs around 3 sides of each bin with the 4th side left open, and they are overflowing with yard waste.

Basically, it just looks like a big mess. Thankfully, there is an absolutely gorgeous wisteria vine covering the entire side of these bins that faces my house, so at least we have a nice view. Can’t say the same for the neighbors, though. 😛

So can I do anything to fix these compost piles and end up with some decent compost to put on my garden next year? I know it needs aeration, but I can’t see how I will possibly be able to turn it at all with the bins being enclosed at the bottom and filled to my eye level. Any suggestions?

Also, our garden next year (fruits and veggies) will be grown using entirely organic methods and products. If the yard waste in the pile was treated with chemicals while it was still living and growing, will those chemicals be present in the compost??

Maybe I should just have the entire contents of the bins hauled away and start from scratch. 😛

Any suggestions, information, and advice is welcome and very appreciated! Thanks in advance. 🙂

The answer voted best is:

Answer by Dan B
Check with a local nursery. It sounds like the compost pile can use a couple of bags of steer manure to get the composting started. Mix it well with a fork.

What do you think? Answer below!

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  1. As far as composting goes, the “piles” need air, heat, and moisture. I suggest using 1/2 of a pile at a time and start turning and watering every 3 days. You should have great compost available for next years garden!

  2. Add lot and lots of cow monure to your pile and some grass cliping. i would suggest reading some compost book! you can find them jsut about every were!

  3. It may be too dry, especially if the grass clippings are still there. Empty one of the bins onto a tarp laid on the ground. Take out the woody stuff and make a separate brush pile. Mix everything else all together with the leaves that will be falling soon. Turn it, water it. The job really goes quickly if you have a good pitchfork.
    You will have great compost next spring. I would be pretty sure that any homeowner who cared enough to make compost bins wouldn’t be a big herbicide user. You can test the compost by trying to germinate some tomato seeds in it because they are very sensitive and won’t grow if persistent herbicides are there.

  4. We would sort out the woody trimmings and run them through my shredder to get very small wood chips. Pull the grass clippings out of the bin and mix the two piles (the shredded wood bits and the grass) together to get some air in the mixture add some cow manure from the dairy down the road or the nursery to get some chemical heat (nitrogen, urea) and micro-organisms into it. (We used some Organic HOT Microorganism Mix in the past but for the money manure is better, I think.) We water the stuff until it is quite moist to wet. Then we cover it with black landscape fabric to get some solar heat into it and turn it with a fork every three or four days. You should have compost to rototill into the garden soil in mid to late February to plant the early veggies. (In this area (Pac. NW) in Late February we can get seeds into the ground.) I guess in PA you’d still be under snow, but it should be ready for you by spring.

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