Heralded by compost enthusiasts as one of the easiest ways to make nutrient-rich humus for enriching your garden soil, compost piles do not demand the intensive labor and time investment tumblers and bins require. However, the backyard compost pile is far from being the Holy Grail of the composting world.
Unlike compost bins and tumblers, compost piles fail to give you a well-defined composting area. According to the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension, your original compost heap must be between 3 and 5 cubic feet in order to maintain adequately high composting temperatures and oxygen levels. That's some serious space, especially if you have a small yard or garden area.
Just as important, as time passes, you'll need to occasionally mix the composting materials together to introduce more oxygen to the decomposing bacteria in your pile. Without a firm framework to support it, decomposing waste will inevitably start to fall out of your neatly constructed pile. Over time, gathering and replacing this waste can become a chore, especially if you don't want to invest a lot of time in regular compost maintenance.
Face it--animal manure and rotting potatoes don't create the most pleasant of odors, even for the most devoted compost enthusiasts. A few whiffs of your fragrant compost heap and before you know it, your friendly next-door neighbor will morph into one of those mythical dragons you read about in medieval fairy tales.
Minimize potential odor problems by burying fresh food waste under at least 6 inches of carbon materials, such as sawdust, straw and dead leaves. Try to mix your compost heap at least once every 2 to 3 weeks to minimize the activity of anaerobic bacteria, which are responsible for creating the vast majority of foul odors in compost piles.
Give them something to eat and they will come. Unfortunately, this statement could be the motto for many homeowners using compost piles. From mice and rats to raccoons and skunks, a lot of pests are going to be attracted to the tasty tidbits of food you put out in your compost heap.
Constructing a perimeter electric fence can easily deter larger pests, but you'll still have smaller ones such as rats that can go under the fence. Consider sprinkling cayenne pepper liberally around the perimeter of your compost pile to discourage rodents. If the problem becomes chronic, you may need to switch to a contained composting method, such as a plastic tumbler, that will keep these annoying creatures at bay.