Friday, February 12, 2010

Winter Composting Tips

Okay, Winter, thanks for the visit, it’s been great catching up and I enjoyed the sled ridding and snowball fights but, um, don’t you think it’s time to move on and make space for spring? Please. Pretty, pretty, please.

If only it were that easy. Unfortunately, winter is not over yet (at least according to that annoying little groundhog) but the good news is that your compost bin need not be abandoned just because it is below freezing. Most decomposing action in your bin will slow down or stop but you can continue to build your pile with food waste throughout the winter. Following a few simple tips will make your bin ready to jump into the action at the first sign of spring.

First and foremost, prepare your bin in the fall for the impending months of cold. Harvest your compost to make space in the bin for the winter pile up. After you have removed all that wonderful compost, insulate the bin with a good layer of shredded leaves, dead plants, or straw. (But if you can’t find leaves in the fall I’m pretty sure you don’t live in Cincinnati).

Next, put anything not quite finished composting in the middle of the pile and add another layer of insulating leaves. This will keep the center active longer. Keep adding food waste over the winter, layering with leaves or other browns so when the weather does heat up, the pile is ready to go.

My second winter composting tip-be lazy. Don’t turn the pile when it’s really cold outside. Turning lets all that valuable heat out that the fungus and bacteria need to survive. Also, watering your pile in the winter is unnecessary since it is mostly inactive. Finally, make sure your pile is close to the house because, let’s face it, you will only walk so far in the gray nasty weather (unless you are one of those wild people jogging outside in February, and in that case you have my upmost wonderment and respect).

I know, how can I follow lazy with diligent, but just be glad I included lazy at all. Consider cutting up materials more in the winter so they break down faster and take up less space in the bin. The natural freeze and thaw action will break the materials up somewhat but the smaller pieces you add, the better. And unless you want to feed the neighborhood critters, keep the lid locked and make sure to cover your food waste with leaves, shredded paper, or even a layer of old cardboard. If you’re really enthusiastic about winter composting, you can also insulate the outside of the bin with straw bales to keep it warmer longer.

Composting in the winter really is easy and rewarding. At a time when pouring over seed catalogues is the closest I get to gardening, winter composting keeps me connected and reminds me about what’s around the corner. I know it may seem like we’re in the never-ending grip of Old Man Winter but before you know it tulips will be popping up, birds will be singing, and- if you keep adding to your pile- your compost bin will be roaring into action.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We’re not in Kansas Clermont anymore…

My husband Adam is a dutiful environmentalist. He turns down our thermostat, rides his bike, avidly recycles (of course), and even collects lunch scraps from coworkers to bring home for composting. Despite the fact that we have lived in the city for more than a decade, he is a farm boy at heart and no matter how often I remind/nag him, he always commits one major composting faux pas: he never buries the food waste in the bin.

Growing up with horses, Adam’s family always had a hefty compost pile. The daily chore of bringing kitchen scraps to the pile involved a quarter mile hike behind the horse barn and tossing the scraps on a heap taller than him. There was no point to burying the food waste, I mean who’s going to notice a few rotting vegetables amongst several tons of horse manure, especially when the closest neighbor lives miles down the road?

But when your grill and patio table are only feet away, you want the best smelling compost bin possible. Several times I have noticed flies congregating around the bin or a “garbagy” smell coming from the compost. When I open the lid to investigate, sure enough old broccoli and black banana peels will be staring back at me. But almost as soon as I cover the pile with leaves or shredded paper, the problem goes away.

Taking the time to bury food waste will go a long way in preventing odors, unwanted flying insects, and the occasional curious 4-legged bandit tempted by the smell of an easy meal. Burying food waste can be quite easy. Next to our bin is a three-pronged garden fork (properly called a hand cultivator) which I use to lift up the layer of leaves on top while I tuck the food waste underneath. I also keep a pile of leaves next to the bin and occasionally throw those on top if the layer is thin.

Of course, you won’t hear this girl complaining about a little spousal composting imperfection, I wouldn’t trade him for anyone (not even Brad Pitt- who probably composts perfectly). I’m counting my blessings that he’s willing to take out the kitchen scraps at all.

Now about washing the dishes…