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Home Composting > The common problems & their simple solutions
What happens in the compost pile?
It’s nature’s wonderful action taking place in there and you are helping in developing an entire aerobic ecosystem within your GEM. The waste heap in the GEM contains nitrogen and carbon rich material, as well as a number of different friendly microorganisms and beneficial insects that live on a diet of these materials. The microorganisms will generate a lot of heat as they do their work – the pile regularly heats up to 50° to 65°C. During this process, the waste is broken down into compost.

How long does it take to make compost?
Compost can be produced in as little as 3 -4 months or it can take as long as two years. It depends on how you maintain your GEM. If you use roughly equal amounts of GREENS and BROWNS, keep the pile moist, and turn or mix the pile once in 15 days, you can get compost in a few months. A less active maintenance program will result in the same product, but after a longer period of time.

A rough and ready guide to check the maturity of the compost is (1) lack of attraction of insects or development of insect larvae in the final product and (2) presence of sweet earthy smell typically experienced at the onset of monsoon.

Can I compost in winter?
Yes you can. Although your compost heap may look inactive during winter, it will usually be working in the middle, although at a much slower pace. Remember to always insulate the pile with a brown layer.

What do I do in summer?
Indian summers are very hot and the contents in the GEM could warm up to a very high temperature. This could lead to death of our friendly bacteria and destabilise the process. You must add adequate quantity of soil and water and preferably keep it under shade.

What about the monsoons?
No problem. Just ensure that the top lid is closed, otherwise excess moisture can cause odour and leachate.

Nothing is happening in my GEM, what do I do?
It is possible that the balance is off in the bin and you may need carbon material (brown). Add more brown and mix thoroughly.

Do I need seeding ?
The microorganisms that enable composting are naturally present in wastes or they grow under conducive environmental conditions. Therefore seeding of compost heap is not required. Moreover, scientific tests using commercially available compost inoculums showed no specific increased benefits over natural sources of organisms. For your satisfaction, If at all, you can make compost tea(!) by putting some fresh compost in a bucket of water which can be sprinkled on the waste pile in your GEM from time to time.

Should I use an accelerator?
Accelerators claim to speed up the composting process. Basically they contain concentrated amounts of elements already present in a well-used GEM. They certainly seem to work but adding a small amount of fresh grass cuttings, nettles or coffee grounds will have the same effect. Perhaps the most readilyavailable compost accelerator is human urine, but we do not recommend this technique in urban areas!!!

Can I compost evergreen material?
Evergreen material takes a long time to decompose, over five years in some cases. In general they are very acidic and the leaves or needles tend to have an almost rubbery texture. There is no reason not to include them, except for their slow decomposition. We suggest that these should be added in small amounts only.

Can I introduce the earthworms?
There is no need to do so! One of the problems is that the earthworms are very sensitive to high (typically >45°C in the middle of the heap) as well as low temperatures. Especially during summer and peak winters they will stop singing the song and may die ! Moreover, they are expensive and also difficult to separate from the finished compost.

What should I do if my GEM smells?
There are two possible reasons for this type of problem. Firstly you may have too many GREENS and not enough BROWNS. If you haven’t added Browns in a while, put some in. If you don’t have any dried leaves handy, shred some newspaper and mix it in or sprinkle some soil. The second most likely problem is that your compost pile may be lacking in oxygen. To fix it, simply turn the material over with a garden rake a few times. The smell will be gone in a day or two. Another reason could be excess moisture. In that case mix the contents in the GEM, add extra soil/leaves and do not water it for couple of days.

I don't have much BROWN material !
The most readily available BROWN materials are dry leaves, newspapers and cardboard. You only need about 10 newspapers a year for each compost bin. It should be torn into strips or as individual sheets rolled into balls before adding it in. About half a tabloid newspaper should be added every couple of weeks or so if no other ‘BROWNS’ are available. Plain brown cardboard can also be used, again make sure it is damp and cut into smaller pieces. Avoid too much coloured cardboard as some of the inks can be toxic. It is also a good practice to keep few bags full of dry leaves when they are available in plenty during the fall season. You can also ask your garbage collector to deliver it at your home.

I have flies in my GEM?
You have forgotten to put a brown layer on top of the kitchen waste. The fastest and surest way is to immediately throw Neem Khali (Deoiled cake of Neem seeds available at garden shops or nurseries) on top. You can also use shredded newspaper or handful of soil, ash, dry leaves or old compost on top of the heap. Ensure that you mix up the heap at least once every two weeks with a garden rake.

Will I get animals in my compost pile?
Not if you put the correct materials in your pile. No meat, bones, dairy products (e.g., curd, split milk, cheese), fatty materials, or oil should be put into your compost pile. These materials break down very slowly, and will attract unwanted guests in the GEM eco-system. Remember all kitchen waste should be covered by BROWNS, (such as dried leaves). Animals are a very rare occurrence in a properly managed compost pile. Again, the GEM has been designed in such a way that rodents cannot enter.

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