The easy way to compost in the winter is a two-step system. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: The trials and tribulations of composting in winter

Tossing food scraps into the compost heap sounds simple enough when it's summer time

By Mary Lowther

Tossing food scraps into the compost heap sounds simple enough when it’s summer time in the garden, but who wants to traipse out to the heap in winter?

We bought a kitchen compost container from the CVRD but it took up too much room on the counter and attracted fruit flies so I had to come up with something else. I put it just outside the door where it would be handy but it froze to the container and I had to bring it back in to thaw it out. Some people need to do something more than once in order to learn a lesson and why should I be any different? So I persevered, but when some varmint turned it upside down, messy scraps stuck to the landing and I had to chip off the detritus. Throwing the scraps in the garbage was a no-go because I could see my granny in Scotland admonishing me: “You shouldna waste good leftovers.”

So I devised a simple routine. I keep a small plastic tub with a snap on lid beside the sink and the larger one from the CVRD sits in the greenhouse, but a cold back room would suffice. The tub by the sink is just big enough to hold one day’s worth of scraps so every morning I dump it into the larger container. When that’s full every three or four days, I take it outside and empty it into the compost heap. I keep straw undercover nearby and spread a bit on top.

What a difference this has made! We don’t have fruit flies in the kitchen, the tub takes up so little room that it’s not in the way and going outside to the heap twice a week isn’t daunting.

There’s a cover on the compost heap to keep out rain that would cool down fermentation and wash out nutrients. My heap is in the shady side of the yard so it doesn’t get very warm in winter, but I like it there for two reasons: it’s close to the house so I am more likely to use it and in summer it doesn’t heat up as much. When a heap is too hot, more nitrogen off gases as ammonia instead of remaining in the heap to produce compost.

Because I have a three bin system, one heap is always curing, one is being filled and the other is curing in time for spring. My heap takes a year and a half because I don’t bother turning it so the breakdown is a cooler, slower one. I prepare the heap in the fall and it’s ready the second spring. I’ve tried various ways to compost and I’ve found this to be the easiest and least complicated method. Everything composts very well after sitting that long and there are fewer sow bugs and slugs in the final mix to gross me out.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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