Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Creating a Stink

“No! No! No!” I screamed silently in my head, scrunching my nose and staring down in disbelief at my compost bin…

Let me back up to the beginning. A few Fridays ago I had the afternoon off and took the opportunity to enjoy the weather and wander around my garden as it yawned out of hibernation. After making a few rounds gathering bundles of dead plants and old potting soil, I brought the offerings to my compost bin.

All winter I’ve been adding food waste to the bin, almost to the point where I didn’t know how much more he could take before spring (yes, my compost bin is male, don’t ask). I decided the weather was warm enough for the inaugural 2010 compost bin turning. A sort of opening day in my strange, little composting world.

I fetched my wingdigger compost turner out of the storage area and after shaking off the winter dust and cobwebs, I stabbed it unceremoniously into the middle of the pile. That’s when I felt it. The rather unpleasant wet squish warning me of what to expect next.

Screaming in my head and anticipating the worst, I slowly pulled the turner out of the pile and as I did a slight ammonia smell wafted in the air. I let out a sigh. Crisis averted. My pile was too wet but only starting to go anaerobic- you know, hospitable to the bad smelling, oxygen-hating, slow-composting cousins of the aerobic bacteria we want to encourage. A healthy compost bin has a sweet earthy smell.

In my determination to fit all my winter food scraps into my bin, I didn’t add enough brown ingredients like leaves. So as soon as the pile thawed, all the water from the food scraps and the overfilled bin with few airspaces meant the bad bacteria started to take over. I say “started” because if they had really taken over I would have smelled a sharp, nose-hair-curling, rotten egg stench.

So I saved the bin just in time (is there such a thing as a composting super hero?) and made sure to prod everywhere to really get the air into the pile. I also shredded up leaves and pushed those into the pile to fluff up the dense food waste. But don’t feel like you need some fancy dancy official tool to turn your compost. Prodding the bin with a pitchfork or shovel works or even just using a big stick to poke holes if nothing else. You can also slide your bin up off your pile, set it in a new spot, and shovel the compost back in to introduce air.

A week and a half after turning my pile, it already fell 4-6 inches which tells me it's rockin’ and rollin’. I plan to turn it again this Friday just because I derive a ridiculous amount of pleasure in seeing my bin heat up and start really working. You can turn your bin once a week or once a year, it’s really up to you, but the more you turn, the faster you will have finished compost. But beware. If you’re not a frequent turner and you add food scraps to the pile, keep one eye opened (or one nostril opened?) for an ammonia or rotten egg smell meaning your pile needs a little TLC.

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