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.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Until we meet again, composting your garden and flower remnants

Saying goodbye to my little friend, the hummingbird, is just one reminder that winter is approaching. The hosta flowers she once graced are now part of my compost pile as are the impatients, tomato plants, and other bits and pieces of summer glory.

Not being one to spend much time on the shredding and chopping end, I have found the stems from my hosta flowers and tomato plants are not decomposing as quickly as the more tender and moisture-filled stems of say, my begonias and impatients. To hasten decomposition I have a new tool in my arsenal, one I use regularly in other areas of the garden, the hand pruner.

This year as I clean up my gardens and put them to bed for the winter, I am using my pruner to chop these stringy and woody stems into smaller pieces. The more surface area provided for those wonderful micro-organisms to feed off, the quicker I get finished compost. If you prefer power equipment, shredders and chippers will also make short order of the task, although stringy stems such as the tomato plant aren’t very shredder-friendly.

Just as we Northerners need shelter to survive in winter, so do the bacteria and insects in our compost piles. Not turning your pile in the winter allows these critters to stay as snug as a bug in a rug. I will allow them their rest now for in the spring they will be back on the treadmill, working my organics into that beautiful black, garden-aerating, moisture-retaining, and nutrient-packed addition to my soil.