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compost smells like ammonia

 
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Hello everyone. I have been having some ordeals in the compost department. I received a delivery of compost and it reeks of ammonia. I emailed the company told them the deal and they said, oh no problem go ahead and plant, it will be fine. I read that the ammonia smell is coming from putting too much green material into the pile. If someone could break down the science behind green material vs brown and how that makes/prevents/balances levels of ammonia. Also, what do you think, will the seeds I planted germinate?  
 
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Taylor Shaw wrote:Hello everyone. I have been having some ordeals in the compost department. I received a delivery of compost and it reeks of ammonia. I emailed the company told them the deal and they said, oh no problem go ahead and plant, it will be fine. I read that the ammonia smell is coming from putting too much green material into the pile. If someone could break down the science behind green material vs brown and how that makes/prevents/balances levels of ammonia. Also, what do you think, will the seeds I planted germinate?  



Sounds like non organic compost in which they might have added some chem fertilizers like ammonium nitrate or urea. Finished compost should smell like sweet earth with zero foul odors, which is one of the ways to know it’s ready to use. I don’t trust anything that comes from people I don’t know. I have composted a lot of animal bedding materials that were well inoculated with manure and urine and never once had my compost piles smell bad. Manure from animals recently wormed will kill earth worms. Compost, straw, or hay treated with glyphosate can destroy a garden. It’s stories like this that reinforce my desire to make all my own compost and source materials only from those I trust completely. I wouldn’t use that compost, but then again, I would have never bought it, so it’s a very biased opinion (a bias I prefer to have). What you choose to do is entirely up to you. If they added something like a chem fertilizer, that they thought was a good idea, I would think they would have said so when you contacted them about the ammonia smell.

Good luck!
 
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Location: Sudbury, Ontario Zone 4b
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If you paid money for this "compost", demand your money back. It has gone anaerobic and as such can actually harm your plants. It has been poorly composted without sufficient oxygen or time. Even compost with a proper carbon:nitrogen ratio will go anaerobic/ammonia smell if it is not properly aerated. It is acidic and will promote weed growth. The soil microbiology you expected, (healthy bacteria and fungi) is not there. I comment as a student of Dr. Elaine Ingham's Soil Food Web School. Have a look at some of her YouTube lectures. Making GOOD compost is high level art and science. I am spending several thousand dollars learning those lessons. #enlightening  Contact Dr. Elaine through her website and ask to be put in touch with someone near who who has graduated her course and is making BioComplete compost, extracts and teas. It will be worth every penny you spend.
 
Taylor Shaw
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Thank you for your responses. Much appreciated. Garth, so awesome you mentioned Dr. Elaine. I have been reaching out to the soil food web coordinators and just the other day received a list of alumni in my area ha. Happy to hear you are learning a lot. How far along are you in the program? I am hoping to enroll in the next year.

And Paul, the crazy bit is that the company has a great reputation and is certified organic. This is my first year ordering from them and the first round I had ordered ended up being incorrect ( finely ground mulch) and the second order had that ammonia smell. I am disappointed I made the decision to put it on my bed. The ammonia smell has seemed to subside in the last week but I planted radish seeds and only a very small amount have sprouted. I appreciat your input and it is a reminder to always pay close attention to the materials I am choosing to incorporated.
 
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Taylor Shaw wrote:I am disappointed I made the decision to put it on my bed.  


But why?

Even if you decided to use it, it had been wise to aeriate it and let it become real compost.

It probably had become too wet for air/oxygen to circulate, thus anerobic bacteria dominate it.
Those bacteria  tend to enforce conditions they like (anerobic) by creating a water- and airtight slime.
The only situation i can think of where this is desired is when glaying a pond to seal it.

But now it probably suffocates the soil biology where you put it.

Talk to the company that provided it, maybe you can get the right person on the phone for a refund
or even remediation of the damage done.
 
Taylor Shaw
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I guess I am disappointed because I did not follow my gut. I would have rather it become real compost in its own area. BUT all is okay either way.

Also, from what I understand, most vegetable plants can still use ammonia to grow but it is more difficult/they prefer nitrogen in nitrate form? And that fungal dominated soils prefer ammonia. But in this case it has the ammonia smell b/c of lack of aerobic nitrogen fixing bacteria?
 
R. Han
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Taylor Shaw wrote: aerobic nitrogen fixing bacteria?



It is just guessing on our side, but we strongly assume your "compost" is anerobic.

The ammonia is not the issue, its a symptom.

The issue is that there is no oxygen/aeriation in your compost and only very few plants tolerate that.
 
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I agree that you should complain to the company about the anaerobic compost. However, unless you are growing in straight compost or using a very thick layer,  I doubt it  will harm you garden.  I've had home compost go anaerobic before; it is slimy and annoying, but a thin layer quickly dries out and ceases to be anaerobic.
 
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