Key composting issues and solutions

Jeremy is having mixed success with his composting. His wife doesn’t always chop up the stuff that she drops into their YOLO Compost Tumbler – like tossing in a whole brinjal that went off. His children added some really big, tough leaves from their garden just as they started to add contents to their YOLO. They have been adding material for only a few weeks.

“Those big things are not really breaking down,” he says.

He also says that they don’t have enough brown to add and that the contents are wet and stinky. He added a pile of torn-up breakfast cereal boxes to dry things out. He also left the lid open yesterday to dry out the contents a bit.

We offered Jeremy this advice – we’ve made the same compost tumbling mistakes.

To experiment, I tossed a whole potato or two, a rotten apple and some big chunks into my YOLO to see how it would fare. Like you, my moisture content went up, the contents are more ‘chunky’ and even 8 weeks later they have not broken down. In contrast, the small pieces of the same are indistinguishable now. Small pieces of everything are key. Smaller pieces have a larger surface area for the composting microbes to work on and the whole decomposition process speeds up. The big things will eventually breakdown, it just takes a lot longer. Chopped, shredded, torn… the smaller the better. 

We’ve used moulded-in graphics on the side of the YOLO Compost Tumbler not only to show you what you can put into it but also to give you ideas. The ‘brown’, carbon-rich materials are critical. It is all too easy to toss tub after tub of veggie peelings into your YOLO but it must be balanced by drier materials. Veggies are wet and when they rot they will smell – which creates the problem that Jeremy is having. Fortunately, you can fix the wet-and-smelly issue to get your compost contents healthy again.

My go-to ‘brown’ are egg cartons, which I tear up into little pieces. At the moment I’m drowning in autumn leaves, so I crush these up and add them too. Crushed egg shells too. Emptying your vacuum cleaner bag into your YOLO adds ‘brown’ and of course shredded/torn-up cardboard and newspaper works a treat. 

Torn up pieces of egg carton. My go-to ‘brown’.

Remember that you need two tubs of ‘brown’ for every tub of wet veggie cuttings and peelings from your kitchen.

If you have a moisture problem, leaving the lid ope does help, but it won’t right your mix unless you add ‘brown’ materials too. The microbes responsible for decomposition need this too.

We’ve read about compost tumblers with drainage holes to drain off the ‘tea’ from the contents. We tried this with earlier prototypes and it was nasty. First, if your contents are that moist to produce ‘tea’, then it is too wet inside which is both bad for the microbes and it will be smelly. The tea itself is messy and the sludgy contents clogs the holes. 

Within a few days of adding-tumbling-adding-tumbling ‘brown’ materials, your nose alone will tell you that you’re getting it right. A healthy compost has an earthy inoffensive smell.

happy tumbling,


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