Ammonia Smell

by Robert Spies
(Tempe Az)

i just started composting using a aerobin 400

added a layer of dried leaves, then a layer of active compost from home depot.

have been adding chopped up veggies and fruits, an activator, shredded paper.

it has only been a week and it smell like ammonia

live in az, weather about 90 degrees

also added a little water

is this a normal smell? does not smell like rotting garbage


r j spies md

Handling the Ammonia Smell

Hi Robert.

The ammonia smell often occurs in composting. Ammonia is a type of fixed nitrogen and is used to make various nitrogen fertilizers.

I checked out the aerobin 400 just in case it was part of the problem. I don't think it is. It looks like a bin that would work well and maintain adequate airflow.

If you have a lot of nitrogen in your compost there is a chance that the excess will off gas as ammonia. The high nitrogen items in your compost are the chopped up veggies and fruits and the activator.

I would omit the activator now. Activators are useful when you don't have enough nitrogen rich materials for your compost. You have enough nitrogen without the activator so just stop using it. Things should settle quickly.

If the problem continues add more high carbon materials - like your shredded paper. Mix it up as well as possible with the greens you are adding.

Finally, in Arizona, as you know it is very dry. I live in a very dry area too. The one thing to keep an eye on is the moisture in the compost. If it gets too dry the whole composting process stops. Instead of compost you'll get mummified garbage. The bin you are using may help but if things do get dry do add water and mix it up.

Good luck with this.

Leslie - The Compost Gardener

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