Way to wet...is paper really a bad thing?

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

I have been to so many websites about composting and read way too many books....

Most say that you should NOT use paper or cardboard. Well, I have a bunch of paper and plenty of tp rolls but very little other brown material. I did not add paper until today. I felt I had to since my compost was turning into a really wet & stinky mess even though it is covered to keep out rain and I haven't watered it. I have several plants that I have pulled out that are sitting in a sunny spot to dry up before I add it.
Also, I read some place that laundry lint and vacuum bag contents are brown material. Since I don't use dryer sheet in the dryer I have been using that. I don't know what is on the floor so I don't use what is in the vacuum.

Just in case you need to know:

I am using a black trash bin that is full of holes for air and I keep the lid on when I know we are going to get rain and at night just in case, otherwise the lid stays off. There are a few fly's, but nothing big. The ants are having a field day! I put it on it's side once a day and roll it to mix the contents and once a week I use a pitch fork to stir it. Things are breaking down slowly, but it is starting to smell and is not hot at all. I am not so concerned about the hot part right now, just the smell. I don't think my neighbor would like it if it gets any worse.

Any suggestions.

Why do so many people say not to put in paper and cardboard and other few say it is fine?

I don't understand why something that is suppose to be so easy is made so difficult. Now I know why so many people don't want to start. I have started now and don't want to give up.

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

First off, let me commend you for persevering, and not giving up without getting an answer you can live with.

With that said, a picture is worth a thousand words, especially since I was JUST about to log off and head for home.

This is confetti shredder paper that I'm holding to add to my homemade compost pile. I do a sort of lasagna layering compost on the ground in a corner of my yard. I start with a layer of the shredder paper, then a layer of coffee grinds (I get bucketsful from the coffee bar at my job...), veggie peel slush (I chuck it into covered buckets until I'm ready to throw it in and it breaks down in the meanwhile...) and dried leaves. I sprinkle each layer with the garden hose to ensure it's moist enough. Then, I leave it alone, until the next time I feel like layering some more.

I use the confetti, cross cutt shred because the confetti that's shred into long strips become a HEAVY, wet, tangled mess when (and IF!!) I decide to try to turn my pile for some aeration -- which I generally don't do...

What are you putting in your can that might be causing the smell? LMK what you're trying to compost. Are you using any green grass? That's a sure fire way to HEAT up your pile. My DH has a mountain of cut grass and leaves and he always has heat. I never do because I love my earthworms and don't wanna hurt them. So, I don't add any fresh cut grass. Also, we have stray cats, and I don't wanna use that grass because my compost is used on my vegetable gardens.

LMK what's going on with you.

P.S. The smaller it is when you put it in, the faster it will break down!

Thumbnail by Gymgirl
Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Okay what is LMK?

I am composting plants that are done producing, some lawn clippings (most stay in the grass), veggie and fruit peels, spoiled veggies and fruit, dryer lint, egg shells (rinsed and crushed), coffee grounds, & the few leaves we have. I have not been putting meat, dairy or oils into the pile. Ever website says that is a big no no for beginners and people w/ small compost piles. The only thing I can think that might smell is all the fruit (watermelon peels, apple peels, unfinished fresh and canned fruits and veggies). The smell is not a rotten smell it is just an extremely ripe, bitter smell w/ a hint of earthyness (if that makes scene).

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

LMK=let me know.

I suspected your issue stems from an abundance of veggie n fruit peels. Find out which of your neighbors don't use pesticides on their lawns and aren't collecting dog or cat poop. Then negotiate some deal like collecting the cuttings from the curb on lawn day in exchange for some trash bags. Or offering your firstborn. Whatever, but you need some lawn clippings and leaves. And throw in a few shovelsful of your garden soil, too.

Can you get any shredder paper perhaps from your job or maybe a local office? Scrounge around and see what you come up with. Bulk up your pile and hold off on the peels till you do. Put the peels and Veggies into some airtight buckets with lids. They'll turn slushy and the smell will be contained. Once you bulk up with the other stuff, you can start adding the veggie slush a little at a time.

Keep me posted on your progress!


Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Well, I guess I could ask the neighbors lawn guys since they do not use anything on their lawn.
I work from home and have torn up a bunch of paper into really small bits w/ the help of my little ones. I do child care and the kids love to cut and tear up paper into confetti. I am putting all the peels into a bucket in the kitchen. It is just a pickle jar w/ a lid.
How about untreated cedar chips? Like the ones used for hamster bedding. We got a bunch of organic bedding for my daughters hamster years ago and it died before we used it all. I have a med sized package left.

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

Yep, you can do all you proposed above, and more. I learned to remember composting this way. "Anything that was once alive, can be added to your compost pile."

On our backyard scales, though, we want to avoid the meats, dairies and oils like you already know. But, larger composters actually do include all these ingredients, as well as the dog/cat poop and dead animals. They get enough heat to cook any pathogens and break down all of this matter.

Think about the forest, and how humus happens there. It's just decomposing falling leaves (GREAT STUFF!), falling branches, animal poop (who scoops in the forest?), dead animals, and dead foliage. And it lays there in the rain and the sun, and decomposes into stull we would kill for. And the forest is lush and green.

So, we're just trying to recreate a reasonable facsimile of the humus in the forest, by using what we can comfortably agree to use...

I hope this helps. There are people on DG (me included) who do nighttime drive-bys on lawn day to collect people's bags of cut grass and leaves from the curb. The stuff is PRICELESS. Your neighbors will give it to you for free.

I came home one evening and my next-door-neighbor was raking up leaves on his driveway. Without a word, I changed my clothes, grabbed my dustpan and rake and came up behind him, and helped him sweep up those PRICELESS leaves into a garbage can that he so graciously agreed to drag into his backyard and dump over his fence right into my leaf mold pile! We filled about 6 garbage cans of leaves that evening!

Talk to your neighbors! Sit outside on lawn day and offer them lemonade for the grass and leaves!

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

My daughters is going to have a fall job. I am going to pay her $2 for every bag she fills w/ leaves. I am going to have her go the neighbors and ask them if she can rake up their leaves for free and keep the leaves. We talked about this last night and she was all excited.

Kalispell, MT(Zone 4b)

Odors in compost are from lack of oxygen (anerobic) bacteria accumulate in oxygen deprived areas. I suspect the bag idea is the cause. Simple chicken wire stacks of composting material if layered well will cook without odor. My kitchen stuff goes daily on top of my compost pile and I do not collect large amounts over long times in any plastic bag because of the odor. You always get water in compost and it needs to drain away. Hence my not using a composter. Also the compost must have exposure to the soil so the proper bacteria and fungus can get into the pile. Worms show up and eat and grind the materials without any work. So Oxygen + Ground contact + no plastic bags = good compost activity and odor.

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

Soferdig is correct on the lack of oxygen being a contributor to the ranky smell. Do you have a corner in your yard where you can begin layering your compost material directly on the ground? You'll need an area no less than 3'L x 3'W x 3'Ht to get some activity started. It doesn't need to be fenced in or anything, just on the ground. Then it will have drainage and exposure to the oxygen and soil and the earthworms will come!

Great way to recruit some energetic labor! And who can refuse a cute kid? Get your purse ready!

Here's my little pile in the corner.

Thumbnail by Gymgirl
Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

My compost is not in a plastic bag, it is in a trash can w/ tons of holes on the sides and bottom. I put the kitchen stuff in an air tight bucket that is located in the kitchen. I think it just may be so wet that it does not get the air it needs. I added the wood chips just a bit ago and now it does not smell anymore. I also got a couple buckets full of grass from my neighbors lawn guys. They said they would be happy to fill up whatever I leave for them from now on. How exciting!

BTW - My daughter says that I am "officially as mad as a Hatter"!!!

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


And, your daughter can thank the "Mad Hatter," when she's chompin' down on a nice, red tomato or her favorite veggie that she picked herself from the "Mad Hatter's Veggie Garden!"

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

That's what I said, but since she is a pre-teen she informed me that she does want to eat anything that comes straight from the garden since bugs probably crawled on it. I didn't tell her that what she has had for dinner came from our garden and that all fruits and veggies have had some contact w/ bugs. I don't think she would ever eat that stuff again.

My dad just told me that he just cut his grass and filled up a trash can that he is not using. He told me if I wanted it (can and all) I had to come by tonight to get it. I guess I am taking the 5 min drive tonight. I think I will stop at the coffee shop on my way there! This is as addicting as gardening.
I have been gardening for a few years now and decided to put up a green house for winter gardening this year. My hubby thinks I am obsessed, what does he know! :-)

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

Well, if you're gonna put up a greenhouse, how about a portable hoop house?

Check these out....
This is an interlocking raised bed with the hoop house pins pre-installed for when you want to put the PVC up over them in the winter.

This is another type of free-standing PVC hoop. I made mine in 15 minutes and covered it with sheets, 'cause I was in a hurry to protect my cabbages from the freeze. I've since bought a roll of 4-6 mil contractor's plastic, and will be using that this winter to start my spring seedlings.

Thumbnail by Gymgirl
Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Thanks for that, but I already have the lumber and plans. We will go to Denver in Sept to p/u the polycarb panels for it. I can't wait, but while I am waiting I thought it might be fun to compost.

Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Gymgirl, thanks for reminding us to use confetti shredded top secrets (just kidding) - I used to have the old long strip shredder type and it would just pack so I stopped using it.. I will try my present confetti shredder's output (mine makes really small pcs.) I wonder about using the grass clippings - they are high in nitrogen so will make the compost get hot - but that will kill the worms. As I read all these wonderful forums, it seems to me that the compost people and the worm people have different approaches. (I am a worm person, mostly) My worms are delighted that I take such good care of them.

I add grass clippings when I have put leaves on top of the pile, then try to mix them a bit. Since my pile is about as big as yours (3' x 5') I can only add one bag of leaves at a time and one lawn mower bag of the greenest grass. Mostly I am feeding my worms with the veggie scraps from the house. We have enjoyed the volunteer tomatoes and cukes this year too. Got a cantaloupe that was ripe but about the size of a naval orange. It wasn't really worth eating so I gave part to my dog and composted the reat.

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

What composts faster...Worm compost or hot compost? I have looked into on the web an have yet to see anything concrete. I am getting an inexpensive compost bin from Sams Club today and will use that one for hot compost (since it is larger than the trash cans, and will cut the bottom off my trash cans and add worms to try both methods. The extra can I have I will use for my "stand by" materials that I am not ready to add.

My can is at 150 degrees right now so I will have to find more browns to cool it down before adding the worms.

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

You and I are composting almost exactly alike. I care more about my worms than rushing things along with heat. Mine stays put until the fall when I raid it to plant my brassicas that love organics. As I harvest I throw as many worm as I can back in the pile. I had some huge babies this last time.


Wake Forest, NC(Zone 7b)

Ha! I just spent 30 minutes picking the worms out of about a bucketful of worm pile "dirt" and throwing them back in the pile. They said "thank you".

Home Depot sells black plastic shallow rectangular pans for mixing concrete for $3.99 and they are super for finding the worms and then for mixing dirt with worm compost. The fig trees I rooted grow really well in the worm pile dirt. The tree in the pic was a 6" twig when I rooted it in Jan. 2009.

This message was edited Jul 25, 2010 6:59 PM

Thumbnail by pbyrley
Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Hi everyone!
I just came across this thread & could hardly wait to post.

As one "newbie" to another (I just started my pile about a month ago) the absolutely best suggestion I can give you is to spend as much time as you can in the DG Soil & Composting Forum, both to read & to ask questions as they come up.

Pretty much every bit of knowledge I gained that gave me the confidence to start came from DG members - Gymgirl being one of them.

Books & websites can be informative, but confusing & don't allow you to interact with anyone when you have a question. DG members LOVE to help other DG members!

That said, here are some things I'm doing so far that are working really well.

1) Like you, I bought a Cheap Composter from Sam's Club. It was not my first choice. I looked & looked for the highly touted Biostack Compost Bin to no avail. Many DG members have & love them, but they are no longer available (even the same version by Scotts isn't available).

I didn't want an open pile (at least for my first one) because we have lots of wild critters around that I didn't want nesting in it.

First of all - get rid of the plastic bolts that came with it & replace with steel bolts. The best would be stainless steel, but they are more expensive than regular galvanized. We used galvanized. They will eventually rust, but it really doesn't matter & they are so much stronger than the junky plastic bolts.

Next, we laid down a piece of Galvanized Hardware Cloth with 1/2" squares underneath the bin. It will keep out digging critters, but still let worms & insects in. We actually made it just slightly larger than the bin by about twice as long. That way when the bin gets too full to stir, we can just lift it off the compost (it's really pretty light) & set it down next to the compost, then just reload it with the most recent stuff on the bottom.

I am adding things in layers - not too much of one thing at one time - then stirring it around with a small rake or hoe (we haven't purchased a pitchfork yet).

Here is what I've been adding so far & it's already breaking down & doesn't smell one bit - Confetti from my crosscut shredder, grass clippings, leaves from last autumn saved in paper bags, veggie scraps, sawdust & shavings (we have tons - my husband is a Woodworker), used coffee filters & the grounds from my coffeemaker, coffee grounds from Starbuck's (they give it away), occasional cleaned eggshells, & plant trimmings. Also, make sure to keep it all slightly moist & I also learned from DG that smaller pieces break down faster (makes sense).

Keep posting your successes (& failures) - we will be learning together.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the DG members that got me started & continue to inspire me on this wonderful journey of composting - I'm loving it & I know you will too, onyxwar!

This message was edited Jul 26, 2010 9:19 AM

This message was edited Jul 26, 2010 9:20 AM

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

Thanks for your kind words. I believe in "passing it forward," especially here in the garden!

I thought there was nothing prettier on the planet than finely sifted, earthy, "black gold" compost in a veggie bed. And people asked me why I sift...

But, I've since learned (and none too soon) that all those rocky, bumpy sticks, chunks, and mineral particles are VERY necessary for soil aeration and drainage, and to keeping that beautiful compost from compacting and smothering the roots! So, I'll be using a large screen (1/2 minimum) from now on!

I learn something new here, EVERY day!

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Thanks for the tips. It is funny that you mention the plastic bolts. When I started putting it together I thought "this won't hold". So I went out to the garage and got the SS bolts I had from another project and put those in place of the plastic. I don't want it falling apart when the compost is almost done. That would be horrible.

DG has become my best friend since I started getting on in early spring. I just decided to start composting because I want to do start a Square Foot Garden for my fall planting and will move my boxes into the greenhouse for winter. I figured it would cost a lot less to make my own compost than purchase it. Since the SF Garden requires you to add compost between plantings it might get a bit expensive after some time. I get free cow and sheep manure for my flower beds so I never really needed it. I think this will be a great way to save money, eliminate waste, and teach my children how to do the same. I hate waste.

I will keep you guys (gals) posted. I think this new composter will make a big difference, things are already drier and there is almost no smell (the smell is just a light earthy scent now).

Oh, I also have buckets at a couple coffee shops close to my house and the convenient store down the street is going to save me what they have too along with any fruit and veggie scraps since they have a small food court.

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Good news, I have steam! I went to turn the compost today and it is HOT HOT HOT! I think the new bin makes a world of difference.

No Central, AZ(Zone 7b)

What about citrus? I have read not to use much citrus as it can kill the good bacteria. Would pineapple fall into that category too as it is acidy?

I also am a DG devotee as I learn so much from everyone. We have not made 'live' friends here, except a few neighbors to talk to over the fence, even in 6 years, and then it is hard to get together. My 'virtual' friends on line at DG are across the globe and someone is always there to answer a question or just to 'talk' too.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

I compost my orange peels along with everything else in my bin. If you don't want any peels in your bin, you could always just toss them behind some bushes, bury them, or run them through your garbage disposal. Throwing them in the trash seems like a waste of good organic matter that could feed the soil.

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Orange peels are good to keep cats out of your garden too I hear. I use chicken wire and rose bush cuttings, but I hear a lot of people who have trouble w/ cats using their garden soil as a litter box have great success w/ any type of citrus peels.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Onyxwar - That is so exciting to hear that you already have steam!!!

My compost seems to be breaking down fairly quickly, too, using the same bin as you. I keep adding & stirring & it keeps getting smaller.

I've never tried citrus peels in my compost or my garden, but I love to put them in my garbage disposal since it makes it smell nice & I've read that the oils in citrus peels help clean & lubricate the garbage disposal.

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

Nuts, how do you turn your pile? I have found the only good way to do it is to pull the bin off, move it next to the pile and then shovel it in. When I try to turn it in the bin things don't seem to mix as well.

I went from a 3/4 full bin to a little under 1/2 in a couple of weeks! I think if I don't add anything else I will have completed compost is another week or two. It seems to be working faster than I thought. I figured it would take at least 3 months.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Quote from onyxwar :
Nuts, how do you turn your pile? I have found the only good way to do it is to pull the bin off, move it next to the pile and then shovel it in. When I try to turn it in the bin things don't seem to mix as well.

Have you tried an aerator? http://www.google.com/products?q=compost+aerator

Before I bought my Scotts bin (aka the Biostack) I used a Yard Butler aerator to mix up the raw materials in my one-piece bin. It worked reasonably well.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Hi everyone,

Onyxwar, I haven't gotten around to getting an aerator like PuddlePirate recommended, but I've been having pretty good success using a tool I recently found at a garage sale for $2.00!

I call it a Pitchfork-Hoe because it looks like a 4-pronged pitchfork with the prongs bent into the shape of a hoe. (picture a fork bent at about 90 degrees). I'll try to take a picture of mine & upload it. I believe I've seen them at home center stores.

I don't know how well it would work, though, once the bin gets real full. I actually planned to do what your doing - lifting the whole bin & moving it over as it fills up more.

I found an aerator like the Yard Butler made by Achla about a month ago for $21.00 for two of them. I even called them to verify it. Well, I just went back to the website planning to give everybody the link & it has doubled to $41.00!! So...forget about that link.

Onyxwar, I think mixing with tools like rakes or pitchforks until the bin gets too full, then lifting the whole bin is probably going to be the best way to go. I, too have been amazed at how fast the pile is shrinking.

By the way, PuddlePirate is incredibly knowledgeable about composting & other garden amendments. You should read the thread he started on Glacial Rock Dust. Absolutely fascinating!

Puddle, you got me so interested I've been searching for & reading articles all over the internet.
I just wish I could find a cheaper source. I've been holding off on trying it because I was hoping to find a source of inexpensive local rock dust, but no luck so far.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

Holy cow! I'm just a compost newbie, truly. I've just screwed up so often that some of the lessons have sunk in. I started at 33. Maybe if I hit 80 I'll be calling myself knowledgeable.

I haven't found any cheap local source for rock dust yet, either. So far I've bought a honkin' big bag online every year to mix into my yearly batch of black gold. I've been wondering if I can just substitute the local clay if it's chopped into small enough bits (or maybe dissolved with gypsum). Maybe it's time for a side-by-side experiment. :)

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

Citrus peels , and all fruit, are OK in compost

if the acid were so bad, how is it that citrus and other fruits rot and mold so readily?

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Puddle - You could have fooled me.
Say what you want, but I'm still saving some of your threads in my 'Tagged' pages.

If you're thinking about experimenting with clay, I've got an entire yard full of it which you're welcome to. My happiest plants are in a raised bed my husband built that we added topsoil & about a ton of organic materials to. Even after three years the soil is nice & fluffy.

Sallyg - Thanks for the info. I was planning to add some slightly over-ripe cantaloupe chunks, along with the peels I cut up & froze last night, although I was concerned they might smell - so far I've had no problem with odor. I do trust your opinion so I'm going to go ahead & dump them in.
Your posts & articles have helped to encourage & excite me - My favorite being the one on Small scale composting in a hole which I've both 'Tagged' & printed to keep handy in my composting file.

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

nuts--aw shucks, you are too kind!

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Onyxwar- Here are two pics of the "Rake-Hoe" I found at a garage sale. It was in really good shape, then my husband put another coat of lacquer on the handle & repainted the tines for a little extra protection (all with supplies he already had on hand, so the price was right).

This won came from Ace Hardware, but I've seen similar ones at assorted Home Center Stores.

With a little work, I've been able to stir & turn the contents quite well. The Hardware Cloth you see on the ground is what we put down to keep the little Ground Squirrels out (who dig under just about everything). It's long enough to allow me to lift the whole bin & move it over while still having the Hardware Cloth underneath.

Picture #1

Thumbnail by nutsaboutnature
Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Picture # 2
Definitely worth my $2.00 investment. You might even want to search garage sales & estate/moving sales. It's amazing what you can find sometimes!

Thumbnail by nutsaboutnature
North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

I've also had success aerating/fluffing the contents of a compost bin with my favorite multi-use garden tool, the long-handled CobraHead Weeder.


As they say in Bawston, it's wicked shahp.

Greeley, CO(Zone 5b)

I was at WM last week and looked at that hoe like tool and decided to go with a short handled spading fork. It works great and cost less than the other tool. I just shove the forks into the compost and twist it. It also works better than the pitch fork when mixing it.
Isn't the forked hoe hard to shove all the way though your compost? That was the main reason I did not purchase it. More than likely I will get one to try it out and also to use in the garden.
Doesn't the saying go "whoever dies w/ the most gardening tools win"?


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

No, it's, "whoever dies with the most tomatoes" wins.

North Ridgeville, OH(Zone 5b)

If you want to quickly boost the activity in cold, partially-composted raw materials in a solid composter, jab the handle of a rake or hoe down deep into the middle of the pile and jiggle it around like you're stirring a cauldron. Then pour blood meal into the hole you've just created, followed by a couple of gallons of water with about a tablespoon of blackstrap molasses dissolved in each gallon. If there's any carbon-rich stuff left down in there, the nitrogen and sugars will get it cookin' right away.

Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

I'm all for, "Whoever lives the longest gets everyone else's tomatoes & gardening tools."

Onyxwar - I've seen the short-handled spading forks & still plan to get one. The "rake-hoe" wasn't something I planned on, but when I saw one for $2.00 that was practically brand new I couldn't pass it up.

The way I reach the very bottom is by working from corner-to-corner using a raking/ pulling motion. I find if I rake the pile from one corner towards the opposite corner, I can get all the way to the bottom. Then I go to the next corner.

It only takes a few minutes & a little elbow grease to take things I've just added on top & transfer them towards the bottom of the pile. It may be more work than I need to do & possibly just stirring it a little would be sufficient, but I actually find I enjoy it. (at least I enjoy it when it's not 90 degrees with 90% humidity & mosquitos swarming me - our Summer this year has been horrendous!).

Thanks for the info, Puddle. Sounds like a great idea!

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