Please help my compost bin!

I’ve been composting for a few years. its the 2.5’ x 2.5’ x 2.5’ black bin with holes on the side. The mystery i am trying to solve is:

  • The pile doesn’t seem to grow. Doesn’t matter if i throw all my veggie and fruit scraps there, it just doesn’t seem to get much bigger. is there anything that eats decaying food? i didn’t see any tunnels into the ground underneath the bin. rats?
  • It doesn’t seem to compost. i was told the stuff turns into black gold with time. there doesn’t seem to be any of that even at the bottom of the pile. disclosure: i am lazy and never turn and prepare the pile. i just let it sit. when i put the stuff from the pile into the beds each year, it still looks like decaying food, vs compost.
  • fruit flies like the pile. yes its in the back of the yard, but its a bit annoying when opening the bin. Any solutions?

Thanks and please help my pile!

go to a coffee shop with a 5 gallon plastic bucket and ask them to give you heaps of coffee grounds. add that to the compost, and turn the pile. your pile will transform rapidly to compost.

and make sure it’s wet. best to keep the compost out of direct sun. It should feel like a damp sponge.

the volume of decomposed vegetative matter is roughly 600:1

that it’s “disappearing” is an indication your compositing pile is actually doing its thing.
it’s good news, really!

I don’t turn mine, worry or fret, either. after a couple years I move it and the dirt below is a dark rich organic loamy stuff. the worms/etc come in from the bottom and work it down into the top layer of the soil - that takes 2-3 years.

stuff not decomposing into “where’d it all go?” indicates a problem not indicated by your first paragraph. lack of air/oxygen slows composting down. too much moisture makes for slime vs. compost. you might want to try leaving the lid off.

fruit flies like the sugars - but for example I toss in an entire watermelon rind - and some days later it’s “not there anymore” - I suspect your plastic bin is a bit “too tight” - i.e. insufficient air circulation - to promote decomp.

I had a bin similar to yours…once I added content I let it sit for the summer and got the black gold you’re looking for. The pile does not grow, but consolidates. I had another open pile that I kept adding to and turned every whatever. If you still see food scraps (proper compost candidates, right?) after a year, your pile is not getting air, or drying out and not heating up. I made one of these contraptions, and after stocking it and turning it once a day, get compost every 6 weeks or so:

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It sounds like the pile isn’t cooking. I think the volume is simply decreasing as the vegetable matter dries out.
The flies and the food staying recognizable indicates that the pile isn’t composting. A healthy compost pile needs dry brown stuff too - alternate a layer of dried leaves between layers of fresh vegetable matter.

Also, some things take longer to compost such as banana peels, melon rinds. Chopping them into smaller pieces helps speed them up.

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Mine is always lackluster until I add a bit of manure in there.

Are you adding “brown matter” like leaves or shredded newspaper? My understanding is that you need both green (food) and brown (carbon) materials.

Thanks all, appreciate the suggestions- my bin has gaps on the side like this one:

so when you said the pile is not getting air, did you mean that i still need to get some air into the pile by turning it from time to time?

regarding the matter drying out- do you regularly spray water on it to keep moist? here in N California we got no rain for months at a time.

…too little air…

those tiny slits methinks are too little - here’s mine, no top

where the weather is so dry, you will need to moisten the pile now and then. bucketful 1x or 2x a week - but don’t do the dishwater routine - the soaps/detergents do in the bugs - and good bugs and good.

in your climate, the top may be keeping it too hot as well - basically toasting stuff.

composts happens. if you don’t turn the pile it takes longer to happen, but it still happens.

50-50 browns to greens works - it’s an approximate thing, don’t get out the microgram scale…

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Newspaper,yes, but NO colored ink… just black & white newsprint.

Why no colored ink, Gio? It’s all soy.

That’s in my manual, however if both black & white and colored is being used it ought to be offset with an equal amount of green waste such as garden clippings or vegetable scraps. And, as usual the paper should be shredded.

We allow colored paper for lining our paths under wood chips, just not glossy paper/ads. And yes, absolutely need a mix of “green” and “brown” but it sounds like the OP has the green under control.

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Colored ink on newsprint is fine. The old admonition not to use it was from the bad-old-days when they still allowed the use of lead in inks. It continued to be a component of colored inks for a long while after they had banned its use in black inks.

Glossy paper like magazines and cereal boxes is not recommended because of the junk they use to get the glossy finish. It won’t rot properly without some extra attention and may have some unwanted chemical components due to those processes that make it all shiny.

To my knowledge, there is no lead-containing ink used anywhere in publishing any more, but definitely not in newsprint.


I had a great compost pile going at my parents place in Iowa, but that relied on having a nearly limitless supply of grass clippings and leaves, with food wastes being a relatively minor addition. In California I’ve found a pile harder to maintain, though I did have a worm bin going pretty well outside one of my apartments. Since it’s so easy to toss all my food waste into the green bin that’s what I do these days.
But the other posters have a point about aeration and water. Does it have a door in the bottom, and if so is it any more like finished compost there than near the top? If so, take some out and use it, if not it isn’t composting much at all. The easiest way to aerate/turn such a pile is this toolthat is easy to stick down into dense matter (the wings collapse) but grasp the material when pulled up. Also, for keeping it moist just add water you might use to rinse out your container, or lots of moist coffee grounds. As for insects, there are less of the surface flies if you always have some yard waste (or newspaper scraps, though I find these to be slower to decompose and a pain to shred) on hand to cover up each layer of scraps.

I keep my compost pile very simple. It’s in the corner of my yard. I just toss in kitchen scraps. I turn it over rarely. When I need some for my veggie garden I dig down to the bottom. It’s all brown earth with hundreds of happy worms.

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I’ve an indoor compose bin. For the past week, there are always some dried up dead worms outside the bin when I wake up in the morning, 3-4 escapes per night.

They were new worms that arrived by post. For the first 2-3 weeks, they were staying inside happily, I wonder what is wrong now.

I’ve read that mint or aromatic herbs is in the ban food list. Potato and onion is a nono, I avoid putting fruits, as it will attract flies and ants. What else one shouldn’t put in the bin? How about rose petals and leaves? Skin of jerusalem artichoke? They don’t seem to like leaves of cabbages…(they started escaping…)

Good for you. Sorry about your mortality rate. I haven’t done indoor composting. In my previous home I had a 3m x 10m outdoor heap (yes, meters, not feet grin) pretty well stuffed with volunteer worms. I think the suggestions to avoid aromatics, onions, and potatoes is based on odor not worm health. I’m with you on fruits. Fruit flies (as opposed to common house flies) drive me to distraction. It’s taken regular applications of hot vinegar to our drains to keep them under control. Bah!

I suspect cabbage leaves per se are not the problem, just that cabbage must deteriorate sufficiently for the worms to manage and that will take a while.

It occurs to me that search engine results for you may be different than for me based on geolocation. The top return from Google here in the Eastern US is . Perhaps there are hints there?

How wet is your compost? Worms can drown and they may be fleeing too damp conditions. That is a real guess, shooting from the hip.

For entertainment value, I once threw trimmings from dividing water lilies into the damp corner of my compost heap. Next Spring they bloomed!


I am not familiar with indoor bins, although I am familiar with bins to keep stuff until you take it out.

I have read about worm compost bins and vermicoposting, or something like that. The indooor stuff, like houseplants, sound too fiddly for me, but I know where to find resources.

Is this worm compost or vermicompost you are working on? Can you describe your bin, bedding and feeding?

Here is Planet Natural on that subject.

We checked everything again, the reason is probably a extra damp bedding, it didn’t look like that until I turned the bedding. We added a lot of paper and carton. We even added some grinder egg shells.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold