Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Train Your Thanksgiving Guests to Compost

"Oh no, you don’t,” my mom says as Uncle Jimmy attempts to scrap leftover green beans into the garbage.

“That goes in my compost!”

Acting as the compost police at holidays is perfectly acceptable with close family members but you may not want your in-laws to think you’re cuckoo for compost. Here are some tips to offer more gentle suggestions to your Thanksgiving guests about how to separate food scraps for composting.

1. Place containers near trash
Everyone seems to congregate in the kitchen at gatherings, so make your compost container easy to access in a crowded kitchen.

2. Upgrade and label container
Especially during food prep you may need extra capacity so upsize to a large bowl or small trash can. You can label the bowl with a list of what you can compost.

3. Assign a compost watchdog
After a little education, a niece or nephew would make the perfect junior compost police while coming off much cuter than you would saying the same thing.

4. Pre-screen questionable dishes
Just how cheesy are those potatoes? Since we don’t want meat or dairy in the compost, make sure you know what ingredients go into Grandma Carmen’s sweet potato casserole beforehand. A little beef bouillon is fine but two cups of butter and a half gallon of heavy cream may cause some smelly issues in the compost bin.

5. Don’t forget the decorations
Remind guests that the decorative gourds and fall flowers can also be composted. Save the plastic pilgrims for next year.

6. Offer a compost bin tour
An after dinner stroll to your compost bin may help convince your Aunt Eileen to start a compost pile of her own. But good luck competing with football and food comas.

How do you coach guests on composting in your home? We would love to know in the comments below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

You can't put me in the compost bin.


  1. Michele, I have speed-read thru your composting tips. I cannot find anything about the "quality" of a compost. Is one compost mix "better" as a finished compost than another mix.

    Also, does compost have a "shelf life"?

    What about the pros of turning the shredded pile of leaves during the winter? If yes, how often?

    Thank you for your passion. Cecilia

    1. Cecilia- you are right in thinking that not all finished compost is equal. If you follow the general recipe of three parts browns to one part greens you should get a quickly decomposing pile that has a good pH balance. Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District offers soil testing kits that would allow you to test your finished compost or your garden soil.

      The microorganisms in the pile do have a "shelf life" but your finished compost will stay good and alive for a very long time as long as you don't put it in a black plastic bag and set it in the sun or let it get too dried out. But even if all the microorganisms die, the humus material is a great soil additive.

      Do not worry about turning your shredded pile of leaves during the winter. The pile will go mostly dormant until spring so turning will do very little to help decomposition.