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Soil and Composting: Smelly CompostWhat to do??

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ShaynaPearl
Maynard, MA

December 12, 2012
6:29 PM

Post #9356818

Egads! I have a batch of rotton-smelling compost. What could be the cause? I haven't put any animal products in at all. I used a composter that I had never used before--someone gave it to me--and I haven't liked it, mostly because it's harder to turn than my other one. It's soggy/drippy. Is this batch a lost cause or would adding more leaves eventually turn this into sweet-smelling black gold?

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

December 13, 2012
2:22 PM

Post #9357499

Your compost pile should NEVER be soggy/drippy. It should be about as damp as a wrung out sponge.

I'd dump it, spread it out (as best you can), and work in some of the dry leaves to absorb some of the remaining moisture. Then, put it back, and watch the moisture content from here on out...

It needs to air out, and dry out...

If this is any encouragement, since it sounds like you're on your way to a different composter, I bought three 35-gallon Rubbermaid Brute trashcans, drilled holes all over each of them (took awhile), then lined them up side x side. One can stays empty. I use a pitchfork (an indispensable tool for composting!!!) to move the contents from can #2 to #3 (the empty one), and from can #1 to #2. Then, about a week later, I reverse the process.

This activity turns the pile, and aerates it as well. I was using a shovel at first, and it was KILLING me to lift that heavy, damp mass from can to can (I had moisture issues at first, too, until I learned...). Plus, it was all matted together . Once I got the moisture level right, and repaired the pitchfork, I can turn all the compost in about 10 minutes. I've recently started shredding leaves with my new shredder, and the neighbors have been trained to leave their bagged leaves on my driveway. So, I'm about to add a couple more cans...the shredded leaves break down really fast when the moisture is right, and you turn them often...

Hugs!

Linda
ShaynaPearl
Maynard, MA

December 13, 2012
6:33 PM

Post #9357670

Linda,

Thanks so much for your reply. Still I wonder...is the smell itself an indication that something worse than moisture is happening??

Best,
Shayna

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

December 13, 2012
7:27 PM

Post #9357716

Shayna,
You're correct, there's more going on. It may be the mix has gone anaerobic due to a lack of oxygen in that container. Check the ventilation. If it's not working properly, you may consider drilling some additional holes in the composter. Turning the composter mixes and aerates your contents.

This message was edited Dec 14, 2012 10:49 AM
ShaynaPearl
Maynard, MA

December 16, 2012
9:23 AM

Post #9359804

Thanks! I'll report back at some point.

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

December 17, 2012
11:12 AM

Post #9360727

I think that an extra-rich pile is more likely to smell than a "lean" one. There may be such a thing as too much nitrogen.

Maybe adding more "browns" like shredded paper or chopped dry leaves would help.

But I agree with Linda: bad smells suggest anaerobic or poor aeration. Turning will help that, and less water will help that.

I like to "innoculate" any new compost heap with soil from my healthiest bed. That will add some aerobic bacteria and fungi which might b e in the minority in your bin, if it got really low in oxygen.

If the compost bin is very full, can you remove some and let that excess lay on the ground? If the bin is less full;, more air can get in, and it ought to be easier to turn.

Perhaps drop the excess compost on top of a few layers of newspaper and lay down a sheet of newspaper for every few shovels of raw compost. When the paper is wet, use the fork to rip it up so it lets air in.

Coarser stuff in the mix will also help aeration, like thin twigs or shreds of wood (but they will b reak down very slowly and you might need to screen them out if you want fine compost without any chunks. I seem to have a preoccupation with bark, but it seems to m e that a compost heap is similar to soill in some ways. It needs drainage and aeration, so adding anything chunky or fibrous ought to help if the texture is gooey and has no "loft". Maybe addding 2 cubic feet of cheap bark mulc h would help the smell, and it certainly will be good for your soil even if it is still chunky when you add it to the soil.

(Every time I type "aerobic", I think of worms and chopped leaves in leotards, doing jumping-jacks and Jazzercise.)


This message was edited Dec 17, 2012 12:23 PM

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

December 17, 2012
11:20 AM

Post #9360736

Here is a different approach if it is really smelly.

Skip the rest of the composting phase, or rather switch over to sheet composting.

Pick a bed and rake or shovel som e of the soil to one side.
Spread the smelly batch 1" thick, or 2" thick and tuirn it under a little.
Now spread the extra soil back on top "to keep the smell down.

I suspect that, within hours of being spread thin and aerobic, it will stop stinking.
But if it doesn't, the top-dress of soil will reduce the smell.

And no matter how bad it smells, if you turn it under and MIX it with living soil, it won't smell for long because the soil life considers that smell a delicacy and will consume the volatile parts faster than you can say "humus". Well, maybe not that fast. As fast as I can spell "mycorrhizae"? (It took a few tries plus Google.)

nancynursez637
Madras, OR

January 20, 2013
7:04 PM

Post #9391800

add some soil to it, to incorporate the moisture, then dump it in a pile out doors. It will air out, and with the soil in it the odor should be gone. All I do is dig a hole in the ground and layer house garbage, (no meat, dairy,) with leaves, dirt, straw, green grass clippings (organic fertilized only), i add worms too. Moist but not soggy, all I ever do is keep laying until fall then dig it out and put it in the beds fro spring. Seems to work. I never had any luck with the composters. So I stick with the pile in a hole in the ground, not very deep, just enough to hold the base
Keithmcc
Tallahassee, FL

January 21, 2013
2:50 AM

Post #9392018

I not only have a putrid smell, but every time I open the top, masses of fruit flies, I mean, thousands of them fly out. How do I control the fruit flies?

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

January 21, 2013
7:27 AM

Post #9392211

If you've got that many fruit flies it's probably because you aren't burying what you add to the composter.

I use three 35-gallon Brute Rubbermade garbage cans. I drilled holes all over these cans. Took half a day...

Whenever I add new stuff to these cans I turn them by rotating the contents from can to can. I use a Pitchfork. one can remains empty. #1 contents go to #2 can, and #2 contents go to #3 can. when I add new stuff lately, I've been putting it down into the bottom of the empty can, then covering it wit some of the least finished contents from another can.

this way, the stuff on top controls any odors, and the new material is worked into the rotation. Flies and rodents can't get to stuff they can't access or smell...

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

February 1, 2013
8:22 AM

Post #9404767

What's the update on your smelly compost?

Newbie lurkers learn from the feedback, and the progress reports...

This message was edited Feb 1, 2013 11:23 AM

RickCorey_WA

RickCorey_WA
Everett, WA
(Zone 8a)

February 1, 2013
12:00 PM

Post #9404991

I want to second the idea that you need to bury the new stuff you add. At least a few inches. And ideally mix it a little so the active compost microbes are physically near the stuff.

- add more browns
- avoid soggy, anaerobic piles (less water, more air)
- bury new stuff
- aerate it by turning
- mix raw stuff with active microbes by turning
- make sure the bin has enough air holes
mraider3
Helena, MT

February 10, 2013
1:53 AM

Post #9413830

I shy away from holes in the bins but I agree the advice given above. One other thing I like to do with food that has been over applied and turned rancid is to add some imitation vanilla extract to either water or blended food and mix it in the trench with some new media. I had to do this a few times when feeding 'worm kashi' since I was testing the limits of how much food I could feed at one time. Fermented food (worm kashi) has a strong odor which can permeate the media after being feed, so if you are blending food that has been sitting in a can or plastic pail fermenting for a period of time you might also add something like fresh orange peels to cover the aroma.
steadycam3
Houston Heights, TX
(Zone 9a)

February 10, 2013
2:34 AM

Post #9413841

How did it get soggy/drippy in the first place? did it rain on it or what?
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

February 17, 2013
10:11 AM

Post #9421953

Regarding smelly compost I add baking soda to it and it helps a lot for me. I do not like to waste anything so I compost left over food and it goes to my home made composters.

Belle
mraider3
Helena, MT

February 17, 2013
5:09 PM

Post #9422391

Now there's a true believer. I agree Belle that sodium bicarbonate or vanilla can help mask smelly fermenting odors in your indoor vermicomposting. But too much food and water is generally the problem and an easily remedied situation. Womenhave more sensitive noses than men, and my wife is quick to notice a problem and let me know.about it.
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

February 17, 2013
6:28 PM

Post #9422458

My composters are at the back of the yard behi9nd the storage shed. DH does not bring my container to the bins.

I will not use vanilla because it is expensive.

Belle

TrumpetFlowerz

TrumpetFlowerz
Ft Myers, FL
(Zone 10a)

February 17, 2013
6:33 PM

Post #9422460

RickCorey_WA has it right. Too many greens, not enough browns. You have to balance nitrogens with carbons.
http://trumpetflowers.com/text/how-to-make-your-own-compost.htm#green-brown









This message was edited Feb 18, 2013 9:39 AM
mraider3
Helena, MT

February 18, 2013
12:07 PM

Post #9423261

Belle, imitation vanilla from COSTCO is not so expensive. I have about a 2 liter bottle which rarely gets used, but when wife tells me the garage smells I can make a quick adjustment in my stock pile of veggie scraps or in the blender when I feed.
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

February 18, 2013
2:08 PM

Post #9423403

Garage smelling? Do you compost in the Garage. Please bear with me, It is not clear.

Our costco here does not sell big bots. of vanilla.

Belle

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

February 18, 2013
2:38 PM

Post #9423441

Belle, LOL!

Morgan is a vermicomposter. He's been tutoring me on raising red wiggler worms to harvest the worm castings. Our worm bins are kept in the garage.

One of our feeding methods is to blend the veggie peels into a slushie to pour into the worm bins. Very easy for them to work with since it's already partially broken down. Also, the microorganisms and bacteria don't have to work so hard with the breakdown, so they populate it immediately. By the time it gets nice and scummy (and smelly) with the microorganisms and we pour it in, the worms are getting almost pure food, immediately.

Morgan keeps his slushie in containers in his garage. When his wife complains about the smell, he breaks out the vanilla extract!

I freeze my slushies in coffee canisters. NO smells in the garage until I defrost a canister outdoors (and it gets scummy out there), and then pour it in...

LOL!
mraider3
Helena, MT

February 18, 2013
3:33 PM

Post #9423496

To be frank Belle I've had this container so long I could have picked it up somewhere else, but I have seen them at Walmart or Sams as well. Typically the biggies don't carry the same thing all the time and I suspect you may just have to keep you eyes open for one, but nothing wrong with baking soda. And yes, I vermicompost in lots of ways, but winter time is indoors. Outdoor composting is a vast array of methods which I believe we might start a posting on here shortly.
bellieg
Virginia Beach, VA

February 18, 2013
6:21 PM

Post #9423702

LOL!!! Pardon my ignorance!!! i do not know how to raise worms. I have tons of them in my compost during summer

Belle
steadycam3
Houston Heights, TX
(Zone 9a)

February 18, 2013
6:40 PM

Post #9423720

I might never enjoy vanilla again...

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

February 19, 2013
9:13 AM

Post #9424298

THAT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUNNY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! LOLOLOLOL!!!!

Gymgirl

Gymgirl
SE Houston (Hobby), TX
(Zone 9a)

February 19, 2013
9:14 AM

Post #9424301

Marty,
Just be glad I bring greens to the RU, and not cookies!!!!

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