Compost pile raises a stink


August 16, 2008|By Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld | Ellen Nibali and Jon Traunfeld,Special to the Sun

My compost pile smells. It never did before. I've been adding table scraps (no meat or dairy products), plus grass and weeds.

Unpleasant odor can be caused by too much nitrogen (green/fresh plant material) or too much water and not enough air.

Since all your materials are "green," balance them with "brown" materials, which are high in carbon. Such items include dead dried leaves, sawdust and straw. You can use shredded newspaper, too, but go lightly.

If you've been watering the pile, cut back on that. While moisture is necessary for decomposition, a saturated pile excludes oxygen. Turn the pile to let in oxygen. Lack of oxygen creates an ammonia smell. For more information and troubleshooting answers, see our publication "Backyard Composting."


* Start planting your fall vegetables now.

* Allow grass clippings to decompose in your turf. They can provide 1/4 of the nitrogen your lawn needs each year.

Ellen Nibali, a horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and Jon Traunfeld is the director of the Home and Garden Information Center. Call the center's help line at 800-342-2507 or e-mail questions through the Send a Question feature at

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