Winter Composting

All the wonderful excesses of the holidays lingers on in the last few decorations we can't bear to take down, the rich scent of pine permeating the house, that expanded waistline… The New Year is the time to start afresh, to resolve to spend more time with your kids, eat right and maybe just maybe get more exercise but have you thought of making some New Year's resolutions for your house?

Most people become keenly aware of the vast amounts of garbage they produce when their cans fill to overflowing during the holidays. (In fact, the typical household will double their normal curb side donation between Christmas and the New Year.)

Consider that the average person produces six kilograms of garbage everyday-that's' 2190 kilograms per person every year. That's equivalent to your garbage man lifting up a car (or more depending on the size of your household) from your curb every year! In the winter 18% of that is yard and/or kitchen vegetative waste and in the summer that figure jumps to an average of 70% because of additional grass and garden clippings. Much of that "garbage" needn't be added to our growing and toxic landfills but could make a great gift to your garden.

Composting not only diverts yard and kitchen waste from dumps it produces a nutrient-rich addition to the garden and creates a welcoming environment for earthworms and other beneficial organisms that will improve the long-term health of your soil. This summer you can have the biggest tomatoes on the block without buying any fertiliser by starting your compost today!

Compost Containers
Many municipalities across Canada sell inexpensive compost containers to residents to encourage a reduction in household garbage. These are usually black or dark green plastic containers with a lid to keep out animals and rain, small air holes in the sides to aid decomposition and a removable bottom panel with small holes to let in the worms and keep out the bigger critters. The dark colour of the plastic can significantly increase the temperature of inside the container. Even in the dead of winter, decomposition will still occur in the warm core of the compost. If you can't obtain one of these compost containers through your municipality they are also available at most hardware or garden stores.

If do-it-yourself sounds more appealing it is possible to build an effective and inexpensive version. All you need is chicken wire and five pieces of wood. Use four pieces of wood to form the sides and the fifth for the base of the compost. If possible, drill several small holes in the base to allow earthworm movement. Cover the top with chicken wire which has a fairly tight mesh to prohibit the entry of rodents.

What to Compost

  • lawn clippings

  • weeds and garden plants

  • tea leaves and coffee grounds

  • limited amounts of wood ash from a fireplace

  • kitchen waste (ex. vegetable and fruit peels and scraps)

  • branches that have been broken or chipped into smaller pieces

What Not to Compost

  • meat scraps

  • fats

  • sawdust which generally slow the decomposition of the pile

How to Make a Compost
Despite beginning your compost project in winter, you should have no problem gathering sufficient quantities of vegetative matter to get started. The first layer should no more than eight centimetres of kitchen scraps (maybe some leftover yams and cranberries?), coffee grounds, fallen leaves, garden trimmings, and broken branches. Cover with approximately six centimetres of soil, and manure if available. Continue to alternate layers in this fashion as you add to the compost throughout the winter.

The minimum size to initiate adequate decomposition is one metre square. It is particularly important in the cold winter months to begin with a large pile with a large core. This is the powerhouse of the compost in winter. The warm centre creates a perfect environment for the bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms, which turn "garbage" into "black gold".

Turn your compost once every two weeks to mix old and new additions. A pitchfork is the easiest tool for doing this.

A compost accelerator is a great way to jumpstart decomposition at this time of year. Alfalfa meal, manure, bone meal, cottonseed meal, or a rot accelerator, available from most garden stores, are the best choices. Each time you add a layer to the pile, sprinkle on one of these activators and water well.

A compost pile that is working well will reduce the contents by half in approximately two months. It's a great way to make yard and kitchen waste "disappear" while making your garden look great in the summer!

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