Smelly CompostWhat to do??

Maynard, MA

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?

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

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...



Maynard, MA


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


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

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

Maynard, MA

Thanks! I'll report back at some point.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

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

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

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.)

Madras, OR

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

Tallahassee, FL

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?

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

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...

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

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

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

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

Helena, MT

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.

Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

How did it get soggy/drippy in the first place? did it rain on it or what?

Virginia Beach, VA

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.


Helena, MT

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.

Virginia Beach, VA

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.


Ft Myers, FL(Zone 10a)

RickCorey_WA has it right. Too many greens, not enough browns. You have to balance nitrogens with carbons.

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

Helena, MT

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.

Virginia Beach, VA

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.


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

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...


Helena, MT

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.

Virginia Beach, VA

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


Houston Heights, TX(Zone 9a)

I might never enjoy vanilla again.......

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


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

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

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