Odorless composting

Q: I started my first compost pile several months ago, and it smells awful. I have turned it, and I add kitchen scraps to it regularly. It's not supposed to smell this bad, is it? – Nancy, TN


A: Compost piles can become quite smelly—especially if they aren't getting enough oxygen. Sounds like your compost heap might be too moist. An abundance of kitchen scraps can make compost so wet that even if you do turn it regularly, you're still fostering anaerobic bacteria, which can create quite an impressive stench as they break down organic matter. What you want instead are aerobic bacteria, which quickly create odor-free compost in oxygen-rich environments. How to invite the aerobic bacteria? Author Ken Thompson suggests in his book Compost: The Natural Way to Make Food for Your Garden, that you mix some shredded paper or cardboard in with the wetter food scraps and organic matter coming from your kitchen. Besides soaking up some of the moisture, the paper scraps will improve the structure of your compost heap—helping to create spaces where air can get in. And because paper and cardboard are a good source of carbon, they'll also help to balance out all the nitrogen from those kitchen scraps. Want to become a veritable compost guru? In addition to Thompson's book, check out Cornell University's "Science and Engineering of Composting."


- Susan Brackney


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