Don’t be scared to start composting this winter

  • Staff Photo—Rowan Wilson

  • Staff Photo—Rowan Wilson

  • Staff Photo—Rowan Wilson

  • Staff Photo—Rowan Wilson

  • A home composting setup. Staff Photo by Rowan Wilson

  • Staff Photo—Rowan Wilson

  • Staff Photo—Rowan Wilson

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 11/24/2021 1:20:45 PM
Modified: 11/24/2021 1:20:30 PM

What if you could have a little ecosystem in your backyard? You would need to feed it and occasionally turn it, and after a while it would be usable fertilizer for your garden.

Composting is trendy and eco-friendly. But how easy is it, really? According to Leigh Mae MacLellan, farm manager at the Cornucopia Project across from ConVal High School, if you have the land it’s pretty seamless.

To have a successful compost pile, MacLellan said, you want to have both “greens” and “browns.” Greens constitute most kitchen scraps and green leafy material, items with more nitrogen inside. Browns are “carbon-heavy,” like leaves or hay. To have a balanced compost pile, MacLellan explained, you want to aim to have about a 50/50 split.

Fall is the perfect time to collect some leaves to layer your compost for winter, but MacLellan warned that many old houses in the area are painted with lead or were in the past. Actively raking could be “disturbing soil that might have lead paint in it.” This could potentially introduce lead into the compost pile, and in turn into your vegetable garden. She suggests getting rid of those leaves directly around your house and keeping the ones that have fallen farther away.

In the winter, MacLellan said the composting process slows way down. In the center of the pile there should still be activity, but the outside will freeze. The ideal temperature for the center of a compost pile is 110 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. “Hot enough that you might have to pull your hand out,” MacLellan said. This will kill pathogens and weed seeds. But in the winter, it won’t reach that temperature. MacLellan described a couple things you can do to prepare your pile for winter, when you are basically keeping the compost stored until spring. She said surrounding it with hay bales can keep the compost a bit more insulated. You can also cover it with a dark tarp which will keep it a little warmer and will prevent the compost from becoming waterlogged.

Come spring, it is important to “turn” your pile, which introduces air pockets and “lets every part of the pile heat up,” MacLellan explained. The microorganisms, bacteria and fungus that live in the pile and break down the plant matter will become more active as the weather warms up and your compost pile will be back in business. Lauren Judd, executive director of the Cornucopia Project, said composting represents the “journey that food takes that you miss out on if you throw food away.” As our climate changes perhaps composting can ground us and remind us that we need the Earth to survive.

Peterborough has a compost pile for residents at the recycling center, but many towns do not. This can make composting more of a challenge for those without the yard-space to create a pile of their own. While there are ways to compost in smaller spaces or even inside, like vermiculture composting, which uses worms to break down food scraps in a bin, it can make getting started more complicated and time-consuming.

The Elm City Compost Initiative in Keene will pick up Keene residents’ compost for $20/month, making the process as easy as taking out the trash. Outside of Keene, this is harder to arrange, but Elm City Compost does have bins at the Monadnock Food Co-op where out-of-towners can drop off “up to 5 gallons every week,” according to the Elm City Compost website.




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