Monday, July 11, 2011

Controlling Compost Odors

Many people understand the general process and benefits of composting, yet many choose not to pursue composting due to the associated odors. To the surprise of compost naysayers, healthy compost actually has no foul odor whatsoever. The rotting or ammonia smell people often associate with compost actually comes from incorrect composting techniques. To ensure your spouse, landlord, or HOA doesn’t give you the boot for being too stinky, you should follow the simple composting practices outlined below.

Why Does My Compost Smell?

Unhealthy compost odor can easily be resolved. The most important thing is identifying the underlying source of the smell. Once this is determined, there is generally a simple fix.

Possible Sources of the Smell…

Imbalanced Nitrogen/Carbon Ratio
Most odor issues are due to an unhealthy ratio of nitrogen to carbon – both essential elements to the composting process. Carbon, also referred to as brown material, is the dead and dry parts of your compost including paper, peat moss, sawdust, or dead leaves. Nitrogen is often referred to as the green material in your compost and includes things like food scraps and grass clippings. The ideal ratio is 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. Major shifts in this ratio will lead to unpleasant smells. When there is an over-abundance of nitrogen or green parts in the mix, the compost will have an ammonia or sewage-like smell. The remedy is adding brown materials like leaves, newspaper and straw to re-establish the ratio. Unfortunately, this can take time, patience and perhaps more space than is available as the compost pile grows in size with more green material. In many cases a simpler solution is adding healthy microbes and enzymes to help in the decomposition process. EM•1® compost accelerant, for example, not only prevents anaerobic, odor-causing decay by producing stable organic matter particles (humus), but it also speeds up the whole compost process.

Over-Compaction
The microbes that break down your compost require a healthy level of oxygen. Without this oxygen, your compost may become over-compacted leading to excess hydrogen sulfide and a smell of rotten eggs.
The remedy for over-compacted, un-oxygenated compost is aerating the heap. This requires the simple but messy task of churning the compost on a regular basis. It’s also a good idea to add ‘fluffy’ material, like dry leaves or grass in order to achieve the right density.

Too Much Moisture
While healthy compost requires a great deal of moisture, too much can definitely turn into a smelly problem. If your compost is in a closed container, make holes in the container so some of the moisture can be released and your compost can function properly.

Proper Compost Materials

One important thing to remember is that not everything belongs in the compost bin. These things can invite unwanted creatures and smells.
We recommend that you don’t add:
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Fish
  • Dairy products
  • Grease or oil
But please DO add:
  • Comfrey
  • Garden waste
  • Lawn clippings
  • Kitchen waste (including tea bags, coffee grounds, cooked pasta, fruit and vegetable trimmings.)
  • Manure
  • Seaweed
  • Woody prunings
  • Weeds
  • Bracken
  • Straw
  • Newspaper and cardboard
  • A high quality Microbial Inoculant
While all of these tips are useful and work, some people still find the compost process to be time consuming and, despite best efforts, still smelly. Not to worry! There is another alternative…

The Most Effective Compost Alternative: The Bokashi Method

If you’re searching for a simpler solution, the Bokashi Compost Method is the best alternative to traditional composting currently available. The Bokashi Method is not only easier than composting, but because it relies on the fermentation process rather than decomposition, it is also quicker, requires less churning, and is virtually odorless, making it ideal for urban dwellers.

The Bokashi Method requires 3 simple steps:
  1. Allow 1-2 weeks to fill compost bin
  2. Leave compost in bin to ferment for 2 weeks adding EM•1® Bokashi every few days
  3. Bury the material underground for 2 weeks or simply add it to your traditional compost pile
This method eliminates all odors and takes place in less than a month!

Controlling the smell of your compost is easier than you think. And with the right knowledge, composting is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do.

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