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Compost heap drying out!

8549 Views 21 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  Big Foot Marty
I have some issues with my compost heap. I live in Australia so it's very hot and it doesn't rain that often so my compost heap just dries out and doesn't break down properly. Any ideas?
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Living in Scotland I don't ever have this problem but when I am cleaning out my aquarium I often put some of the water on the compost. You may be able to save some of your other waste water - dishes, shower/bath to put on the heap?
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I've always felt shower/bath water should be allowed to drain into a receptacle for either toilet flushing or watering outdoors.
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I'd love my shower and kitchen water to drain out into the garden - but re routing the piping isn't really an option for me! We shower with buckets in the shower to catch the water and I use it to water our pot plants. But we don't really have enough collectable waste water for me to keep the compost consistently moist.
[To prevent confusion, 'pot plants' just means potted plants in australia

Compost heaps are usually designed to encourage lots of air exchange, for the aerobic composting process, in dry situations it helps to actively reduce air flow through the heap. You could put a border around it or cover it with a thin layer of garden soil. Great air exchange wont help if the compost is dry so reducing it is ok.
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There are indoor compost containers you could use. The air indoors isn't as likely to have that problem.
Thanks for the suggestions guys.

Interesting about the indoor compost - wouldn't that small a bit and attract bugs and insects inside?

Unfortunately water is a precious commodity in Australia, so I try not to stand there with a hose and water the compost too often :)
You just need to give the compost pile/bin a light spray with the hose. Also, are you including any materials like fruit and vege scraps which have a high moisture content? This will also help to stop the pile from drying out too much.
Thanks Rael, yes my compost heap is almost all vegetable and fruit scraps. I give it some water with the hose every now and then - but on a hot day it dries out again by the end of the day. I have tried covering the top with plastic to keep the moisture in and increase humidity - but it still seems to be very dry whenever I go down to check on in :(
How closed in is the compost? If you have it in a large plastic dustbin or similar with air holes drilled in it it will lose much less moisture than an open heap. I have three of them so when one is filled I turn the contents into another bin where it will rot down. Of course I'm in Wales so I have the opposite problem that mine tends to get too wet but I had problems with rats nesting in there when I had an open heap.

And an odd tip but... "watering" the compost with urine is supposed to be very beneficial. One of my exes was always happy to oblige as the compost bin was closer than the bathroom. I had lovely compost in those days!
Is your compost out in the open, that is not under any shade?

If it is super hot and you are already doing everything else re moisture maybe you need to relocate the bin , if that is possible, to an area that has some dappled shade like under a tree.

I'm in Aus too and my compost bin is under a deciduous tree so it has some dappled shade in summer but gets winter sun.

Good luck!
That is a good idea, it used to be under a tree but it had to be removed so now it is out in the full Spring & Summer sun. Thanks for the suggestion!
"There are indoor compost containers you could use. The air indoors isn't as likely to have that problem."

That sounds dangerous.

Aside from insects, mold spores are a serious health concern, and plenty of bacteria off gas nasty things if there's something wrong.

You could argue that if your compost pile is perfectly maintained and biologically balanced, then byproducts like that would be minimal- and maybe that's true... but would you really want to risk your health and the health of your family on that?

A mess up could mean a big mold bloom releasing spores into your home when you open the composter.

I'd leave composting outside. Though a shed or something where you don't live could be good.

As others already said, less airflow, more water... maybe try covering it to prevent as much direct sun exposure.

OR you could just let it dry off, and basically put it all on hold until the wet season. It will wait patiently for you while it's dried out. :)

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OR you could just let it try off, and basically put it all on hold until the wet season. It will wait patiently for you while it's dried out. :)
I was just wondering about that for a project of mine. I want to start a compost heap in a large 'wheelie bin', maybe 200 or 400 litres (45 or 96 pounds). I was thinking that if I need to move it but it is too heavy to move, I could dry it out to make it lighter. Would the composting start working again when I wet it down again? Would it need some kind of 'starter' or new ingrediets to get it going again?
Originally Posted by shadyseattle View Post

Would the composting start working again when I wet it down again? Would it need some kind of 'starter' or new ingrediets to get it going again?
Yep! It'll start back up. Bacteria are very good at forming protective shells to hold them over for dry spells (if they couldn't, there wouldn't be any bacteria because dry surface conditions would kill them off and prevent their spread).

I wouldn't bother with a starter, but if you wanted, you could save a little of the wet stuff and add it back in after you rehydrate the bulk. I can't imagine that would hurt, and it might start back up faster... but personally I don't think I'd bother.
It also might still have a moist patch at the core. You could just mix it up while re-wetting it (which should be done now and then anyway) or you could mix any moist material with water and water the pile with that mix.

There is the issue of what to do with kitchen scraps when keeping the pile dry.

My dog will eat any fresh veggie scraps I put in the pile so I have storage bins where I layer them in, covering with grass clippings along the way, and I mix that stuff in to the pile after its rotted enough so the dog no longer thinks its salad or kimchee. It also discourages mice. Same could be done over dry periods and it would be a heck of a starter to mix in when the wet comes.
Thank you, that's reassuring! Now I won't worry about getting it too heavy to move.
I'm new here and late to the discussion but have been composting for years. My heap is quite a distance from my homestead...I take a walk several times a day and urinate on the pile. Gets me some much needed exercise and well you gotta go when you gotta go.
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