My compost bin is smelling, what can I do with it?

prairiemoon2 z6 MAMay 1, 2010

My poor neighbors, they haven't complained about my com*post bin in all the years I've had it but I've never given them something to complain about either. Although one neighbor gave me a hard time because my bags of dry leaves were too close to their yard and they hated the smell.

This week, I noticed some smell in the yard and it took me awhile to figure out what it was. We usually only com*post leaves and yard waste but we do have two plastic bins with covers and last year we started saving kit*chen scraps to add to it. I don't remember what I did last year, but I didn't have any odor. This year, all I have is leaves in a bin. So I layered a good 6 inches of leaves on the bottom, put the scraps in the middle and then layered it over with another 6 inches of leaves and covered it. I don't have any extra dirt laying around to keep layering that over the scraps. Is that what my problem is? Is there any other way to keep the pile odor free? And how can I fix it now that the scraps are all mixed in with the leaves and I'm not sure I will even be able to see all of them.

Oh, and we don't turn the piles, bad back.

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joepyeweed(5b IL)

The leaf cover should take care of the odor problem.

Two things make compost smell, too many greens in proportions to browns and/or too much moisture.

The common solution to a smelly pile is to add some dry browns, thus addressing both problems.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 12:19PM
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"Two things make compost smell, too many greens in proportions to browns and/or too much moisture. "

And a lack of air. Wait. Three things.

I've had leaves get smelly when they were in a plastic bag all winter. They stopped stinking once they aired out.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 2:28PM
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Its hard to make an open compost pile smell. There is too much exchange of atmospheric gas-there is never any accumulation of smelly gases. Could you leave the top off the bin, when the weather is nice?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 2:59PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Well, the smell is not rotting leaves, but definitely a sour food smell. All vegetable and fruit trimmings. I have a feeling it is orange peels maybe. The compost bins that have the food trimmings are a closed black plastic bin. We did water it with the hose, after the food and leaves were layered and then we covered it and left it. So should I just top it off with more dry leaves, and take the cover off it? I would have to cover it at night so it doesn't attract animals right?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 3:33PM
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I wonder if putting thick 'slabs' of newspaper sections over the top, would help to trap the smells until it composts further?
Or...If your back won't permit, could you get another person to turn the material? That would allow you to reassemble the material, balancing C/N. My food waste goes to an in-ground worm pit, not in the compost pile.

Hope this helps. It is a bummer when things you've done in the past, don't quite work. Your guess about orange rinds is probably right ... pretty unpleasant smell. Maybe bury those in separate pit, in the future?

I cold-compost, too, but in a pile, not enclosed bin. I layer yard waste [twigs, smallish branches]with smaller stuff [leaves, grass, weeds, etc.] So plenty of air movement through the pile.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 3:53PM
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I prefer mixing to layering. The only 'layer' is a inch or two of shredded leaves that usually cover the top of my piles. This serves to reduce odors, and to absorb any excess rain.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 3:57PM
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nygardener(z6 New York)

You might need to add more leaves, preferably chopped (you can chop them by running them over a few times with a lawnmower). Generally you need quite a lot of "browns" (chopped leaves, chopped straw, etc.) to balance out your "greens" (food scraps, green trimmings).

I agree with Barb that it wouuld be good if you could get someone to toss your pile once, with some added browns for good measure.

In the future, add a good amount of browns every time you bring greens to the pile, and stir them together if you can. This will let them mix better than layering of large amounts does.

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 3:59PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I could easily mix it at this point because it was a new pile and there is barely a foot of material in it that is mostly leaves. I'll try all that and see if it takes care of the problem. I also like the idea of the newspaper which I have plenty of and cardboard. I guess I will have to watch it with the orange peels next time. [g]

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 4:46PM
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Hi there.

I've never turned my compost, ever. Seems like too much work =:)

However, each time I add material, I mix the new material into part of the top of the compost with a garden fork, and then cover it up with previous grass or leaves. My compost always has either grass clippings or leaves on the top, and it never smells. ( No lid either )

Maybe this method would work for you with your sore back?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2010 at 8:22PM
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Generally a putrid type of odor is an indication that a compost pile is too wet and is anaerobic digestion. If the odor is one similar to ammonia then the mix has too much Nitrogen.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2010 at 7:25AM
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