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Gardening experts share tips on composting in the cold
Organic material produces high-quality soil for future use
0116COMPOST 1
A ceramic countertop pail can be used to hold food scraps for compost.

Creating compost in the cold poses many challenges for some gardeners. Luckily some gardening experts know of a wide variety of materials to make high-quality soil during the winter months.

“I use lots of kitchen scraps, vegetable scraps, dryer lint or pet hair,” said Suzanne Brosche of Art of Stone Gardening in Gainesville. “That helps to aerate it. If you don’t have enough leaves, you can use cat or dog hair, or some shredded newspaper.”

Many gardeners create or use compost because it is an extremely nutritious soil with many vitamins and minerals to help plants thrive. But when winter chill takes over, the compost slows down.

“Cold makes it decompose much slower,” Brosche said. “Keep it moist, even in the winter, but not when it’s freezing. Cold wind dries everything out. Compost needs air and moisture.”

For the Georgia-certified landscape professional, Brosche’s general rule for creating compost is 30 parts “brown” to one part “green.” “Green” items include vegetables, fruit or other kitchen scraps while “browns” are leaves. And compost needs lots of insulators, aerators and fibers to help break down the vegetable scraps and create soil.

In the winter, adding different items such as cardboard, pet hair and other “browns” can help boost the compost. However, don’t forget to add the nutritious plant leftovers.

“It’s only natural that I find one of the best ways to clean up the kitchen while making deposits into my compost bank is to gather all those food scraps from salads, vegetables and fruit,” said Joe Lamp’l of growingagreenerworld.com. “So much from the kitchen and even other parts of the house are perfect ingredients for making great compost, especially in winter when there’s not much else to add.”

Brosche uses leaves mostly for the “brown” parts of her compost.

“Even in the winter, leaves contribute to the ‘brown,’” she said, although she noted they can take longer to decompose in the winter.

However, if they are chopped finely enough, they are beneficial.

When leaves become sparse, Brosche and Lamp’l become more creative.

“As you collect daily scraps, you may be surprised to find how much can actually be composted,” Lamp’l wrote. “From inside the house, just about anything that once came from a living source can be composted. From the kitchen, add all fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and filters, paper towels and the roll, napkins, oatmeal, banana peels, eggshells and tea bags. You’ll find more items.

“From around the house, vacuum cleaner bags and contents, dryer lint, cardboard rolls, clean paper (shredded is best), newspaper, cotton and wool rags, hair and fur and houseplants.”

Brosche noted clean paper is essential. Any chemicals in paper could harm the soil and plants.

“I also put paper in my compost,” she said. “Some people say you shouldn’t because some of the inks are toxic or the paper might be bleached, but I try to get rid of things that don’t go into a landfill. Probably at least 50 percent of my trash goes into compost instead of landfill. And I have another pile where I shred all my paper and bills and that decomposes separately.”

She also emphasized while they are natural, weeds are not helpful to a compost, especially if they don’t decompose all the way.

In the summer months, weeds may break down enough, but if not, the weeds will be introduced into the garden and can infiltrate beds. Clippings from the yard can be good additions, but only if the compost is cared for adequately.

“It’s fine to put yard cuttings in there, but make sure it’s chopped very finely, especially in the winter,” Brosche said. “Grass clippings and sawdust can go in there, but they tend to mat together, unless they’re turned frequently.”

Although most things can go in compost without being harmful, some items should not.

“Don’t put any meat products in it at all because they will attract rodents,” Brosche said.

Lamp’l added fats, grease, oils and dairy products should stay out of the compost.

“Don’t compost pet waste,” he wrote. “These can contain parasites, bacteria, pathogens and viruses that are dangerous to humans.”

Brosche makes her soil in a composting tumbler, but it can be done in a pile or bin with the right conditions.

“Find a place to have the compost that gets some sunshine and is easy to access,” she said. “It can be unattractive if it’s not contained. I just started with a pile, throwing vegetable scraps and some leaves on top. Pallets around the sides keep everything in one space.”

For those without enough space to compost, indoor electric composters are an option along with city programs.

“These composters provide heat and continually move the compost, and the only organisms involved are the bacteria that are doing the decomposing,” said Teddy Tedesco, project manager for the New York City Compost Project. “Often they can include things like meat and dairy because they’re closed and use heat to help in the process.”

Electric composters generally include a mechanism that allows the processed food waste to fall to the bottom, where it cures before being used.

Many cities are also implementing composting programs where facilities provide bins for people to fill with scraps, which are then picked up and taken to a composting site.

Tribune News Service contributed to this story.

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