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Over the Garden Fence

Keep on Giving the Gift of Compost

Raise your hand if you are cooking for the holidays? My guess is there are quite a few of you. Ever think about all the fresh vegetable waste that goes in the disposal or garbage can?

Cooks can get busy and not think about the compost pile or bin sitting just outside. If the pile or bin is large, composting continues all winter. If not it will resume next spring. In either case, adding the fresh vegetable scraps is doable.

At any other time during the winter, collecting vegetable peelings would be a several day effort before heading outside to compost pile or bin. For example, if you make one big pan of mashed sweet potatoes (with or without marshmallows) and you will have a bagful of scraps. Think about the melon rinds, fruit salad trimmings and other vegetable dishes, and you can see you will be making more than one trip outside during the holidays.

If you do not want to have the vegetable scraps hanging around in the kitchen until you have enough, collect them in the unheated garage or breezeway. Depending on what you add, decomposition can happen right before your eyes in just two or three days, and the odor may not be appreciated by anyone!

You are not likely to be turning your compost this time of year; yet adding to it is easy enough. The vegetable scraps are going to lay on top, and any composting will happen next spring and summer. What will happen is plant cells will freeze and burst and once it thaws next spring will release any water needed for the compost process. The broken down plant tissue will quickly collapse and decay begins soon after, especially if it gets "turned in."

Composting, as most gardeners know, is a combination of browns and greens. By adding the greens all winter, you are supplying the composting process with energy for the degradation microorganisms to continue their work.

The other composting ingredient is a source of those soil organisms. After the holiday gift plants have passed their prime, you can add them as well, supplying the pile or bin with soil. Chances are there will be some residual slow-release fertilizer left in the pot, and this also will make the microorganisms happy come next spring. It is the carbon in the organic matter that sustains those critters.

If bird feeding is something you do, some of the juicier peelings from fruits can be used to supply water and food for your feathered friends. Put them out in small amounts daily so the birds will eat them before they freeze solid.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.