Composting At Home – It’s Not As Smelly As You Think

For nearly a year I’ve been composting scraps in a DIY compost bin that my husband and I built out in about a thirty minutes. While I could write a separate blog post about how we built our own compost bin (and I will), I want to focus this post on two points: why you should compost and what’s holding you back from getting started.

Why you should compost

Compost, by definition, is “decaying organic matter used for fertilizer.” Sounds sexy, right? While the definition itself paints a picture of a smelly pile of rotting trash, it’s actually pretty cool – and scientific. When you would typically toss scraps, peelings, or other wasted food products destined to breed greenhouse gases in a landfill, composting marries them with microbes that generate a nutrient-rich humus. This means composting doesn’t just help you limit the growth of landfills and greenhouses gas emissions, but also can repurpose your food waste into a fertilizer for your home or community garden. And yes, food waste is a huge issue – read about it here. So if you’re a foodie who cares a little bit about the world we live in, maybe it’s time that you give composting a go.

I find composting to be a rewarding learning experience, and my students would agree. The ability to repurpose wasted food makes me feel less guilt from throwing out foods that have gone bad or are undesirable. Of course, I understand there are fears that may be holding you back from getting started with a compost at home. I had those same apprehensions; however, I’m here a year later still enjoying the process and I’ve experienced only a few minor difficulties.

What’s holding you back from starting an at-home compost?

There are a few common concerns that I hear from others with little composting experience, and these misconceptions oftentimes hold them back from getting started:

Doesn’t it smell?

A healthy compost will smell earthy, not trashy. This is achieved by maintaining an ideal balance of what we call the greens and the browns, as well as plenty of air. To put it simply, the trashy smell of an imbalanced compost is caused by the makeup of the foods themselves. Greens – like fresh herbs and fruit and vegetable scraps – are rich in nitrogen while the browns – like dry leaves, paper, and grass clippings – are higher in carbon. If your pile smells awful (think: Bourbon street on Sunday morning) it’s likely you have added too much nitrogen-containing product compared to carbon-rich product. This doesn’t take a lot of meticulous work. I always try to add at least twice as much brown as I do green and aerate my compost pile regularly. My biggest piece of advice for this one is: if it stinks, don’t give up on it! Add more browns, aerate it, and check back.

Won’t it attract pests?

Properly maintaining your compost pile means it will be of little interest to animals of all kinds. I’ve had my compost bin in our backyard for several months. It sits above ground in a concealed container. While we’ve seen several of our regular rabbit and opossum friends, we have never experienced an issue with these creatures attempting to break in to the bin. Even our goldendoodle, Petro, gives it a cursory sniff only occasionally.

Don’t I need more space?

Nope! There are plenty of methods for composting that take up such little space. Your pile can be as big as you’d like, but for proper aeration it is recommended that your bin be no smaller than one cubic yard. The size of your bin depends on your typical food waste – meaning a family of two will likely require less space than a family of six. Our current DIY compost bin is literally a trashcan that sits on top of a stand Greg made from wood scraps. However, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my Subpod! This is a form of vermicomposting with built in space for a small garden or flower bed.

This only scratches the surface of composting and what may be holding you back from getting started. What do you think? Are there other concerns that you have? What else would you like to learn about composting? Please let me know in the comments below!


7 thoughts on “Composting At Home – It’s Not As Smelly As You Think

  1. It is always good to return all biomass or organic material back to the earth to replenish it. Composting is a great way to achieve this and enrich the soil. I like your war on waste! Well done on the compost heap and excellent summary of how to DIY.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely I’ve learnt that compost heaps need aeration. I’ve actually gone to a tumbler style of composter in my new house. I have also learnt that eggshells don’t break down easily and neither do Avocado skins. I’ve learnt the grass clippings are the fastest composting substance. I’ve learnt that adding manure and lime, or possibly sulphate of ammonia (can’t remember which), definitely helps a compost that is slow to decompose.
        Looking forward to reading your next update!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hear good things about tumblers. The DIY style I use definitely is a slower compost. But you’re right – eggshells take forever!! You can sift through compost if they don’t fully break down but I also only sometimes compost by eggshells because I read that it can throw the pile off balance easily as well. I really appreciate hearing from you!!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I think this may be more of a concern early on in a compost pile and I think it’s because they just take a longer time to break down – and that could impact heat and microbial growth. I’ve read that drying out the shells and then grinding the shells prior to adding to the compost bin can help. I’ve added them sporadically and it is fine! Plus lots of people swear by adding eggshells!

        Liked by 1 person

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