So you’re apartment smells like…


This one goes out to the worms I love…..

This is a notice to our friendly Ninjas in the green department trying to compost in their apartment. Though Vermicomposting is a great way to reduce kitchen and yard waste as is hot/cold composting; it can often lead to unwanted odors. In this article I’m going to try to explain how to cut down on the smell.

I’ve been composting my kitchen and yard waste for over a year now. I’m using a combination of Active and Passive style (no induced worming). While using worms for composting you can still create an active mixture of compost for your worms to live in, which at the same time will help break down the food into the ‘black gold’ faster and will also cut down on the foul smells.

An active system is basically a system which heats up due to the break down of the carbon rich fuels (i.e. food waste). The breakdown occurs when aerobic bacteria eat and multiply giving off heat. The key to an active aerobic compost is the mixture. Think of it like making a fine beer. You don’t want too much hops, you don’t want too much barley and you want the right amount of fizz. With composting you need moisture, carbons (which come from cellulose material), and nitrogen (protein based material). Never use meat, dairy products, or eggs (These require a much higher temperature to decompose). Lots of different materials are key to a healthy compost.

To get good quality compost quickly, you need to turn the the heap every few weeks with a fork or shovel. If your heap is wet and smelly – turning will help it dry out. If it’s too dry, turn it and then water it. If you are using worms the rotation of the pile will not disturb the worms, they will figure out which way is up.

A compost heap needs air or it will start to smell. Remember, more air means less smell!

Turning your compost heap lets in more air. But don’t turn more than once a week as you will let too much air in the heap and it will get too cool. Compost heaps need to be hot to make the ingredients break down faster.

If your compost smells its probably over watered or not enough air. It may also get smelly if you put in too much food waste and not enough dry ingredients.

Fix it by:

  • Forking in dry leaves, garden mulch or soil.
  • Adding two or three handfuls of garden lime, dolomite or woodfire ash.
  • Turning the compost to get more air in.
  • Mixing food or grass clippings with sawdust or shredded newspaper before adding to the heap.
  • Adding lime and turning the heap will discourage ants and cockroaches.

Don’t worry if you have a few compost flies. However, if your heap becomes smelly it may have too many flies. You can remedy this by following the same steps for a smelly compost.

::read the ongoing Green.MNP Savage Worms series here::

[[post by Austin – who’s posts can normally be found over at architecture.MNP]]

About brent

Brent founded the Hyphae Design Laboratory in February 2008; “the lab” is a consulting and design firm dedicated to bridging the gap between architecture and biological sciences. Brent is also an active member of greenmeme, an artistic design firm based in Los Angeles and The Chlorophyll Collective, an environmental education group based in Oakland, California. From 2005-2008, Brent served as the design director at Rana Creek, an ecological restoration and design firm based in Carmel Valley, California. Brent’s work included the design of large-scale living roofs, ecological landscapes, rainwater catchment systems, living walls, greywater systems and constructed wetlands. Hit me up if interested about the world before that.

2 thoughts on “So you’re apartment smells like…

  1. thanks for the tip austin. i’d like to point out that the worms don’t generate a foul smell. in fact, their bin emits no smell. it is the bin where we collect our food scraps that is the problem for us. The scrap bin is closed and gets no air, which explains the smell, but i believe the aerobic bacteria are important for breaking down the food a bit so the worms can digest it more easily. We do add dry leaves from our plants though, and we’ll try turning it over more often to help with the smell. Maybe we should poke a few holes in it as well?

  2. Sounds like you have a plan, I would only suggest instead of a holding container for the food scraps, to put them immediately in with the worm bin, too much food source will not be a bad thing for them, what they dont eat will be worked into the compost mix.

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