Euh, Stinky: Troubleshooting Compost Problems

Jordan is master of compost. He is the one who delivers our food scraps to the compost bin and is supposed to make sure all is well in compost heaven. Well, Houston, we have a problem.

The most dreaded of compost problems for me is stinky compost. And we definitely have stinky compost. I remember reading about troubleshooting compost problems and I decided I should make like Nancy Drew and investigate this mystery. So I asked myself these questions to determine the solution to the stinky problem:

Q: Do you have stinky compost?
A: Yes. Stinkiness confirmed.

Q: What have you been putting in your compost bin?
A: Only food scraps. And no oils, I swear!

Q: Have you been following the ratio from your compost recipe of 3:1 browns (carbon-rich) to greens (nitrogen-rich)?
A: No! This must be part of the problem. Master composter, Jordan has been adding our food scraps to the bin every week but hasn’t been adding the leaves and paper scraps. Eh.

Q: How wet is the mix, like a wrung out sponge?
A: Wetter than a rung out sponge, it’s been raining. At least the holes on the side of the bin are working.

So it seems like our problems are not enough dry browns and too much water and perhaps not enough air. I think it might be time to stop adding greens to the pile and let it cook a while. But what do we do with our kitchen scraps in the meantime? Start another bin? I’m not sure I’ll be able to convince Jordan to bite holes in another trash can…

Compost Recipe

Now that we have a DIY compost bin that cost us $15 and about a half hour of our lives, largepuppy and I need to start cooking. After we combine the right ingredients, mix them together and layer them like a cake, sprinkle the goods with a bit of love (and water), and put the whole mess into the oven to cook, we should have some delicious “black gold” to call our own. Wealthy in a whole other sense of the word.

Ooey Gooey Crispy Damp Paper Food Scrap Compost Recipe
yield: cooks down to about half the starting material

Browns, divided:
1 large bag of dry fall leaves, preferably chopped or minced
A weeks worth of junk mail, shredded into strips**
5 cardboard containers, torn
Leftover paper napkins from last night’s takeout
A few twigs and branches
Sticks to taste
Sawdust (who has that lying around?)
Hay or straw (again, who has that lying around??)

5 coffee filters + grounds
4 banana peels
8 eggshells, rinsed to prevent rats
Onion scraps, potato peels, old celery, carrot tops, chopped into small pieces
An apple core or two
Pinch of green yard waste, weeds, or grass clippings
Manure from the imaginary farm animals in your backyard
Seaweed, from the sea

**There are differing views about whether or not to compost junk mail and newspaper because of the dyes and chemicals in the paper. I don’t have very much material to work with so I’m going with what I have. Less to send to the recycling center and hopefully more compost for me!

Prepare compost bin by punching holes in the container or dig a hole in the ground (see How to Make a Compost Bin Out of a Trash Can for reference.) Collect browns (carbon-rich) and greens (nitrogen-rich) materials in a ratio of 3:1 browns to greens. Put down half of the browns and give it a little sprinkle of water to slightly moisten the dry cardboard, then add the greens, followed by the rest of the browns. Give the layer cake another sprinkle of water as icing and cover the whole mess with the lid of your bin or the soil you dug up from the hole (this is your oven.)

Give the whole thing a roll to aerate and mix all the goodies together. Add more browns and greens and roll around every once in a while to cook. Compost will be ready in about 3 months. Enjoy!

How to Make a Compost Bin out of a Trash Can

Ok, so I’ve given up on making a compost “pile” because I don’t have a shovel and I fear the squirrels that think they own my backyard. It’s our fault because largepuppy and I don’t really venture outside on the back deck very often. So the squirrels think they own the place and sometimes when I peek out my back window, there they are, staring right back at me with an expression that says, “We run this s***!” just like a bushy tailed Missy Elliott. I can just imagine them digging in my pile, messing with my layers of browns and greens, and being the mischievous little hip hop critters that they are.

So we decided to make our own compost bin out of a garbage can. Here we go!

  1. Grab a plastic garbage can with a tight fitting lid. Round ones are good for future rolling, also known as aerating.
  2. Poke a bunch of holes in the sides using your teeth (or a hammer and nails or a drill, whatever works best for you.)


DONE. Compost bin ready to receive our browns and greens and magically transform said browns and greens into beautiful humus-rich compost that will magically help my plants grow into magical vegetables.