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Treating Common Ammonia Odors In The Garden

Treating Common Ammonia Odors In The Garden


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Ammonia smell in gardens is a common problem for the home composter. The odor is the result of inefficient breakdown of organic compounds. Ammonia detection in soil is as simple as using your nose, but the cause is a scientific matter. Treatments are easy with a few trick and tips found here.

Composting is a time honored garden tradition and results in rich soil and nutrient density for plants. Ammonia smell in gardens and compost heaps is an indicator of inadequate oxygen for microbial activity. Organic compounds cannot compost without adequate oxygen, but the fix is a simple one by introducing more oxygen to the soil.

Compost Ammonia Odor

Compost ammonia odor is frequently observed in piles of organic matter which have not been turned. Turning of compost introduces more oxygen to the matter, which in turn enhances the work of the microbes and bacteria that break down the matter. Additionally, compost that is too rich in nitrogen requires air circulation and the introduction of a balancing carbon, such as dry leaves.

Mulch piles that are too moist and do not get air exposure are also prone to such odors. When mulch smells like ammonia, simply turn it frequently and mix in straw, leaf litter or even shredded newspaper. Avoid adding more nitrogen-rich plant matter such as grass clippings until the smell is gone and the pile is balanced.

Compost ammonia odor should dissipate over time with the addition of carbon and frequently moving the pile to add oxygen.

Garden Bed Odors

Purchased mulch and compost may not have been processed fully, leading to anaerobic odors such as ammonia or sulfur. You can use a soil test for ammonia detection in soil, but extreme conditions will be obvious just from the smell. The soil test can indicate if pH is too low, around 2.2 to 3.5, which is harmful to most plants.

This mulch is called sour mulch, and if you spread it around your plants, they will quickly become adversely affected and may die. Rake or dig out any areas where sour mulch has been applied and pile up the bad soil. Add carbon to the mixture weekly and turn the pile frequently to correct the problem.

Treating Common Ammonia Odors

Industrial treatment plants use chemicals to balance bio-solids and composting organic materials. They can introduce oxygen through a forced aeration system. Chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide and chlorine are part of professional systems but the average homeowner shouldn’t resort to such measures. Treating common ammonia odors in the home landscape may be done by the addition of carbon or simply applying liberal amounts of water to leach the soil and a lime treatment to increase the soil pH.

Tilling in leaf litter, straw, hay, wood chips and even shredded cardboard will gradually fix the problem when mulch smells like ammonia. Sterilizing the soil also works, by killing off the bacteria, which are releasing the odor as they consume the excess nitrogen in the soil. This is simple to do by covering the affected area with black plastic mulch in the summer. The concentrated solar heat, cooks the soil, killing the bacteria. You will still need to balance the soil with carbon and turn it after the soil cooks for a week or more.

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When applied correctly, mulch has the following beneficial effects on plants and soil:

  • Mulches prevent loss of water from the soil by evaporation.
  • Mulches reduce the growth of weeds, when the mulch material itself is weed-free and applied deeply enough to prevent weed seed germination or to smother existing weeds.
  • Mulches keep the soil cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, thus maintaining a more even soil temperature.
  • Mulches prevent soil splashing, which not only stops erosion, but keeps soil-borne diseases from splashing up onto the plants.
  • Organic mulches can improve the soil structure. As the mulch decays and moves down into the soil, the organic material improves the quality of the topsoil. Decaying mulch also adds nutrients to the soil.
  • Mulches prevent crusting of the soil surface, thus improving the absorption and movement of water into the soil.
  • Mulches protect the trunks of trees and shrubs from damage by lawn equipment.
  • Mulches help prevent soil compaction.
  • Mulches can add to the beauty of the landscape by providing a cover of uniform color and interesting texture to the surface.
  • Mulched plants have more roots than plants that are not mulched because mulched plants will produce additional roots in the mulch that surrounds them.


Urine Quality

Now, I have to start the conversation with a look at urine quality. That’s because not all pee is equal.

My pee, for instance, is like the fine wine of pee. I eat nearly all organic vegetables that I grow myself. My diet also mostly consists of vegetables and fruit. The meat I do eat comes from our homestead or farmers I’ve personally vetted.

No antibiotics enter my diet. I also don’t take any pharmaceutical drugs (or other kinds either). I’m healthy.

Plus, I drink about 2 gallons of water a day on average because I work outside most of the day. So, I have a good working urinary tract. Oh, and that water I drink is from our well and is about the purest, tastiest water possible.

If you live as I do, then your pee is probably quite fine too. However, if you drink municipal water that is heavily treated with chemicals and contains pharmaceutical residues not removed at the water processing plant, take a lot of drugs yourself, eat a diet that is mostly crap, and barely drink water, your pee likely has more bad stuff in it than mine.

What is In Urine?

One of the main reasons you pee is to balance the amount of liquid in your body. Another purpose of peeing, though, is to eliminate pollution from your bloodstream, isolate it in your kidneys, and then pass it out through urine.

According to researchers, depending on what goes into your body, over 3000 chemicals can potentially come out in urine. Some of these are metabolites created by bacteria, others come from your body and are pretty harmless. But roughly 2200 of those chemicals come from cosmetics, food, drugs, or environmental exposure.

So, if you have a lot of toxic things going into your body, then you likely have more toxic things come out in your urine. In a healthy homesteader, though, putting mostly good stuff in, the stuff coming out is primarily water and excess nutrients that the body doesn’t need.


Be careful: Not all mulches mulch alike

Mulch ado about gardensBut be careful: Not all materials work equally

You've weeded. You've planted. And if you mulched, you've put to use a practical gardening tool no Houston garden should be without. But which mulch is best?

Their texture, color and price vary, and not all mulches are well-suited for all purposes. If you dig a lot in the garden, you might not want to top-dress with mulch that might deplete your soil's nitrogen or if you're mulching a footpath or play area, you might want a long-lasting variety.

Before applying mulch in the garden, weed and water the area. Generally, a 1- to 3-inch depth in beds and around trees is good. (If applied thicker, some mulches can mat and prevent water penetration.)

Never pile mulch up on a tree trunk this invites pests. Leave about 6 inches between the mulch and the trunk.

Good mulch has a pleasant earthy or woodsy smell. Avoid oxygen-robbed sour mulch that smells like ammonia or rotten eggs.

Pine needles: An attractive reddish-brown, pine needles are lightweight and medium-lasting and allow air and water penetration. They slightly acidify soil as they break down, so they're an excellent choice around azaleas, gardenias and hydrangeas. Cost: About $6.75 a bale.

Pine-bark mulch: This popular, red to dark brown option has a pleasant odor and boosts organic content with decomposition. Be sure it's ground up large-nugget bark mulch will wash away. Cost: From $2.68 per 3-cubic-foot bag to $2.99 per 2-cubic-foot bag or $21-22 per cubic yard.

Shredded native mulch: A dark-brown, environmentally friendly product, native mulch is made of recycled materials from landscapers and tree trimmers. It is both finely and coarsely textured and looks like hardwood mulch. Cost: About $2.99 a bag or $10-14 per cubic yard.

Hardwood-bark mulch: Made of oak, hickory and other hardwood barks, this dark-brown shredded or ground mulch is best as a top dressing or around trees and along pathways. Don't mix it into the soil, as it causes a temporary nitrogen drain when it's decomposing. Cost: $3.99 per bag or $24-28 per cubic yard.

Richard Stamper, sales manager with Living Earth Technology, a Houston-based producer of soils and mulch, says shredded hardwood-bark mulch is the company's best seller among small landscaping companies. It's easy to work around plants and breaks down rather quickly, boosting soil nutrients. Relatively new colored mulches, Stamper adds, are generally made from vat-dyed raw wood. They're not recommended for working into the soil, as they also can tie up nitrogen as it breaks down, especially if worked into the soil.

Cedar: Reddish-brown, shredded or ground and pleasant-smelling, cedar mulch is produced from trees cleared for development or ranching. It's a long-lasting, attractive top dressing favored by Dallas-based organic expert

Shredded cypress: Blond, then light gray with age, cypress is a dense, long-lasting mulch that can be expensive because it's shipped farther. The Sierra Club, various Master Gardeners and others discourage using it, because cypress trees are harvested from Louisiana and Florida wetlands. Some parishes and counties ban its use. Cost: from $2.68 per 3-cubic-foot bag to $8.99 per 2-cubic-foot bag.

Compost: Rich, crumbly and dark brown, compost is an excellent top dressing and soil amendment. Spread it in beds and around trees, and apply 1/4 to 1/2 inch on lawns annually to boost soil health. Home composters may find a few stray seedlings from tomatoes and other fruit seeds that did not "cook." Cost: free if homemade varies commercially from about $3.88 per 2-cubic-foot bag to $7.99 per 1 1/2-cubic-foot bag.

Leaf mold: Shredded, rotted leaves can be used in beds and around trees. Cost: free with a little raking from your garden.

Newspaper: Most newspaper sections are printed with soy-based ink. To kill grass and weeds, place 8-10 sheets over the area and build a raised bed or path on top. Or spread a few sheets in beds, then camouflage and prevent blowing with bark mulch. Most gardeners avoid slick color inserts.

Shredded rubber: Inorganic products such as RubberStuff, made from recycled automobile tires in Sealy, last a lifetime. They don't decompose, won't blow away, are said to be nontoxic, and suppress weeds, dust and mud. But they don't look natural. Colors, which include blue, red and brown, are said to last 15 years. Use on playground surfaces for softer landings.


9 tips to stop compost from smelling

If your pile already smells bad, then you will need to do more than the tips above to get rid of the odor. Here are eight tips that will leave your compost smelling rich earthy

1. Add brown waste to your compost pile

Sometimes, a shortage of brown materials may be the cause of that foul smell emanating from your compost heap. When green waste is being broken down, it gives a foul odor of ammonia, and that’s why browns such as leaves, paper bags, newspapers, corn cobs, dry twigs, etc. are required to balance it. To compost correctly, add brown waste material thrice the size of your compost green material.

2. Turn pile regularly

Turning your compost pile regularly will keep your browns and greens in balance. It will also help in aerating it, thereby keeping your pile from smelling bad.

4. Do not add fats or animal-based products to your heap

To keep your compost from smelling, desist from adding food scraps, vegetable oils, meat, fish, milk, leftover processed food and fats. These foods create unpleasant smells and attract scavengers and other pests to your bin.

5. Bury kitchen scraps

If you insist on adding food waste to your pile, you need to ensure they are buried completely so it would get enough heat to speed up its decomposition process. It will also mitigate the stench. As you add kitchen waste to your heap, be sure to mix it up and bury it.

6. Shred or chop things into smaller pieces

To reduce the chances of having a moist, matted mess, always shred or chop things into smaller pieces before dumping it in your pile. Wood, for example, should be chopped into smaller pieces.

7. Make sure your compost pile get enough sun

If your bin doesn’t get enough sun, it will definitely smell. Your pile has to receive at least 6 hours of sun daily. If the present location of your compost pile doesn’t allow for enough sun, consider changing it.

8. Do not isolate your pile

A lack of microorganisms will ensure the pile does not heat up or break down. What’s worse? The pile will also smell. If your compost heap is isolated from natural sources of microbes, that is, the earth, it’s time to place it on solid ground. This will get bugs into the pile.

Alternatively, you can introduce microorganisms into your pile by adding organic soil or fresh compost into it. This will naturally take care of the problem.

9. Cover your pile.

To prevent your pile from becoming soggier, cover it with a tarp while raining. The pile can be left covered for a while until it dries up some. If you used a closed bin, you have nothing to worry about.


The truth about using Spent Beer Grain in your Garden

For years now I have heard many Daves Gardeners speak of how great spent beer grain is for gardens and how it is a great ingredient for lasagna gardening. I've always been intrigued and thought that it would make a fine addition to the large organic quantities of horse manure and leaf mold I already use to feed my soil.

My first attempt to locate spent beer grain failed after a local large scale Atlanta brewery wanted to set up a formal interview to speak to me about taking their spent grain and I passed. Most recently, my supply of leaf mold had ended for the season and I renewed my spent beer grain search.

I called a friend of a relative who is very involved in the local farming movement and asked her where I might score some spent beer grain. I called and was welcomed to come and get it this morning. After a 30 minute wait for the person, I started to leave as I didn't know how much longer he was to be in his meeting. oh, sometimes our angels speak to us and we just don't listen and this was one of those times!! . I should have ran!! He stopped me outside and told me where to back up my truck and I did so.

For those of you that don't know better and have any desire to ever use beer grain in your garden. here is the God's honest truth.

It is the most rancid, vile, gross, vomit inducing pile of flytrap stench sludge I have ever had occasion to smell.

I make it a habit not to roll around in piles of manure after stepping in them, but so long as I've already been up to my knees shoveling out horse manure, I would much rather roll around in a pile of horse hockey that have to shovel out this stuff from the tuck. I had to roll up the windows and put the air on recycle as I drove home. I watched the contorting faces of those poor unsuspecting drivers that had only wanted to enjoy the fresh air and nice weather with their windows rolled down. As I pulled up to red lights I saw them search the for the source of the bio-hazard toxic waste smell.

After parking the truck.. all I could manage to do was pull the tarp off the top in hopes that the sun will miraculously sterilize the stench before I go out and have to shovel it out. I have not had my stomach turn quite as much since a terrible bout with food poisoning.

I have ripped off my shirt and pants, but the smell is attached to the fibers of my lungs and I just can't get it out of my system.

I called my husband at work to tell him of my delima and he suggested that I might want to hire someone to spread it.. That would be cruel and unusual punishment. It would be like asking someone to shovel cooked vomit from my truck. He jokingly said not to use the truck and take my minivan next time and I told him it would have to be crushed and turned to scrap metal afterwards.

I don't care how good this stuff is supposed to be for my garden.. I'll stick to manure and leaf mold. I am dreading the spreading of this wet rotting grain and I just needed to make sure that not a single one of you thinks this is a good idea. Ever. Unless of course you have no sense of smell.


January 07, 2010

Houseplants: Ammonia Smell?

Growing indoor plants (houseplants) in clay pots and finger poking the soil to test moisture is as modern as living in a cave.

Dirt gardeners love clay pots but they are best left outside where they are more appropriate. Growing indoor plants in them is tricky to learn and leads to the common problem of over watering.

Perhaps it better to learn how to use your nose than your finger. The slightest hint of an ammonia smell is a sure sign of over watering and putrid water.

Better yet, grow some indoor plants in recycled soda (pop) bottle planters and you will quickly prove the benefits of sub-irrigation and soil/root system visibility to yourself.

Question: I have a 7-foot Dracena marginata in my living room. Recently I noticed an ammonia scent coming from the soil. It's sporadic but smelly. Any thoughts?

Answer: Sounds like an overwatering issue. Saturated soil decomposes anaerobically (no oxygen is available because the water takes up all the empty soil spaces.) This process stinks — think of a swamp or sewer. Draceneas do need high humidity however. To achieve this, especially during winter months when heating systems tend to dry indoor air, create a moist atmosphere by standing plant pots on trays or saucers of moist pebbles. During its active growth period, keep the potting mixture moist but do not allow the pot to stand in water. During the rest period, water moderately — enough to make the potting mixture barely moist — and allow the top inch of soil to dry between waterings.

Comments

Growing indoor plants (houseplants) in clay pots and finger poking the soil to test moisture is as modern as living in a cave.

Dirt gardeners love clay pots but they are best left outside where they are more appropriate. Growing indoor plants in them is tricky to learn and leads to the common problem of over watering.

Perhaps it better to learn how to use your nose than your finger. The slightest hint of an ammonia smell is a sure sign of over watering and putrid water.

Better yet, grow some indoor plants in recycled soda (pop) bottle planters and you will quickly prove the benefits of sub-irrigation and soil/root system visibility to yourself.

Question: I have a 7-foot Dracena marginata in my living room. Recently I noticed an ammonia scent coming from the soil. It's sporadic but smelly. Any thoughts?

Answer: Sounds like an overwatering issue. Saturated soil decomposes anaerobically (no oxygen is available because the water takes up all the empty soil spaces.) This process stinks — think of a swamp or sewer. Draceneas do need high humidity however. To achieve this, especially during winter months when heating systems tend to dry indoor air, create a moist atmosphere by standing plant pots on trays or saucers of moist pebbles. During its active growth period, keep the potting mixture moist but do not allow the pot to stand in water. During the rest period, water moderately — enough to make the potting mixture barely moist — and allow the top inch of soil to dry between waterings.


Watch the video: Backyard Composting Workshop