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Do you make mulch in the winter too?

Once the temps got below freezing this year, I stopped saving my kitchen scraps for the composter. Last year I kept putting them into my tumbler but once it froze it was almost impossible to turn so I figured, what's the use? But it also feels weird throwing all that good stuff out, especially with the amount of soup I produce this time of year, not to mention baking with dozens upon dozens of eggs.

The bin is mostly full, due to the lawn clippings and leaves I put in there end of last season; at least I think it is, because I haven't even peeked in there recently. Just wondering if composting this time of year is a waste of time, or still a good idea? What do you do?

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  1. I think that despite not turning it over in winter, the composting I do all year long is beneficial to my garden. I say keep it up all winter and if you need room, leave out all the leaves in the fall and compost only grass clippings and kitchen scraps...

    8 Replies
    1. re: Gastronomos

      I just hope the not turning part hasn't caused any glitches; last year it wasn't this cold so I had a bin full of unidentifiable plants growing in there by the spring! And tons of earthworms, where they came from I have no idea. Anyway with the thaw this week I'll be checking it out shortly, don't think I've opened the lid in months. If it's not too scary looking in there, it might be time to throw some on the beds and start adding again.

      Yeah the leaves. We have hundreds of oaks on our property, very little of anything else, and they seem to have a radioactive age when it comes to decomposing. The tractor doesn't really grind them up much. Might be time to rethink that addition.

      1. re: coll

        leaves don't add much to compost. green matter does best.

        I'll give you what I do and some say is unconventional,

        In a closed bin system I add grass clippings, topsoil and kitchen scraps along with whatever veggie matter is left in the summer garden in fall, like all the bare plants etc. this is usually around November 1st or so...

        Spring time comes along and I start to stir/roll over and continue to add kitchen scraps and grass clippings all summer. Until November 1st or so, when I lay all this over my garden beds and cover with more grass clippings if there are any at that time (year to year results of grass clippings vary in early November).

        This is when I start a new batch of compost.

        The open to the air compost winters well, gets plenty of air and since its covered with grass clippings, freezes well in winter turning itself over all winter long, ready for a poke in the soil to plant my tomatoes, etc. on Mothers day..

        1. re: Gastronomos

          I forgot about adding topsoil, that is so important! Thanks.

          1. re: Gastronomos

            You actually need the leafs (carbon) to help decompose the green grass and food waste. If not it takes much longer to compost down and just turns into a slime pile.

            If you have a lot of near by dirt you can shovel in there its not so bad but the dead leaves are very important esp in the summer when you loads of grass that will just compact down. There is a exact ratio of brown to green. You can get a turn over in a month if your ratios are right and your turning it etc.

            I collect bags of leaves in the fall and have them sitting beside my compost so when I do my lawn I can layer grass leaves grass leaves. Makes beautiful stuff.

            Even just the leaves I mulch with in the fall turns into nice hummus and adds lightness to my heavy clay soil.

            1. re: daislander

              I really have to get scientific about this I guess. What kind of leaves do you have? I feel like oak leaves are probably the worst, as far as breaking down.

              1. re: coll

                People say that but I love them. I find they breakdown pretty fast. I add a bit of lime for acidity but things still grow well. Ive done ph tests and it dosnt throw anything out of wack. Oak and maple are my go to. If I'm feeling ambitious I dump out all cans and bags I've collected, run them over with the mower and rebag. I do for sure if mulching right away.

                1. re: daislander

                  I pick the leaves up with my lawn tractor so they're cut up to some extent. Well if anything they make good cover to keep in moisture!

                  1. re: coll

                    and keep out hard pelleting rain. This can sort of 'block up' the top layer of your soil. You want all the little organisms and worms to crawl around and aerate and keep the capillaries of the soil open. Plus leave nice poops behind.

      2. I have a 3 bin system that was shown in Crockett's Victory Garden book back in the 70s so we just keep dumping the scraps in one of the bins. I'll use them to start a new pile in the spring with some lawn clippings. I have a kitchen compost pail (maybe gallon size) on the counter. About every 2-3 weeks, one pail goes into the worm composting bin I have in the cellar. I don't feed every week because the worm population can't eat so much so quickly although well fed worms reproduce well.

        1 Reply
        1. re: dfrostnh

          I'm thinking the one bin I have should be supplemented by at least one more...maybe if BJs has the same deal this spring (around $100). I'm not so good at building things unfortunately!

        2. You could always Bokashi in the winter, its incredibly easy and very fast. I even made the EM-1 from kefir whey and it's working great.

          11 Replies
          1. re: weezieduzzit

            It sounds so complicated, I can hardly stand going out to throw the scraps in the bin as it is. Not sure I have anything on hand to use?

            1. re: coll

              Its not complicated at all- you could buy the Bokashi bran to see if the system works for you and then make it to save money if you decide it does.

              I keep a container on the counter that I put scraps in every day just like you would for a compost bin. At the end of the day I open the bucket, dump it in, sprinkle a handful of bokashi bran on it, press it down and close the bucket. Repeat each day until it's full, let it ferment for two weeks when full (use a second bucket to keep collecting,) and bury it when it's done fermenting (or just dump it in your compost- it will speed up your existing compost.) I keep the bucket in the corner of the kitchen but will be looking for one that fits under the kitchen sink. It's great, the only smell when you open it smells like apple cider vinegar. No rotting food smell at all.

              There are tons of YouTube videos that show each stage of the process.

              1. re: weezieduzzit

                Thanks, this is the clearest explanation I've seen yet. If the bran doesn't cost too much, I think I'll try it. My compost takes so long to decompose (probably because I'm not doing it exactly right!)

                1. re: coll

                  Keeping the carbon to nitrogen ratio right to hot compost can be a pain, especially while getting a pile started. I ended up going with bokashi partially because of that, also because the racoons, possoms and squirrels were eating all of the veggies out of it!

                  Apparently, if you bury the fermented bokashi in your garden (just pull back some soil, spread it out and mix it in with the dirt a little and then put 4-6" or so back over it,) you can plant right over the top in two weeks because by the time the roots reach where it is, it will have finished decomposing. I'll be trying that soon, I'm in the area of the country that has had a total absence of winter so I'll start planting with it soon.

                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                    OK this sounds like a great learning experience this summer, thanks for all the info! I'm realizing the soil and compost is as important as the plants themselves.

                    1. re: coll

                      Yes, the soil makes all the difference in the world! I buried some bokashi today so I took some pics. This had been fermenting for a little over 2 weeks. I chopped it up with the shovel as I mixed it in with the dirt (the soil microbes will now work to finish breaking it down and the worms supposedly love it.) I covered it with about 6" of garden soil and some steer manure I bought this weekend that smelled a little too ripe to be sufficiently composted (the stinkiest manure I've ever bought.... blech!) and in 2 weeks I will plant some red pepper seedlings that will be ready in that spot.

                      I had put some sheets of newspaper on the top of the batch before I set it aside for fermenting just to make sure it was totally full and free from extra air space and those sheets were saturated with the moisture (so totally innoculated with the good microbes!) so I tossed those into my compost bin to help it along.

                      I rotate 2 buckets and the next bucket is ready to set aside for fermenting and I'll start using the one I emptied today for the next batch. We are a household of 2 and seem to fall into a 2 week rotation.

                      1. re: weezieduzzit

                        Where are you! I had enough of a thaw over the weekend to LOOK at my compost, plus most of the snow melted, but more snow due Weds and Sat. Right now I'm just dreaming. And planning on planting my seeds indoors mid-March or so.

                        1. re: coll

                          Southern California. Apparently, we don't do winter this year. We're expecting rain this weekend and our fingers are crossed! We need it badly.

                          1. re: weezieduzzit

                            Oh I know! My sister is in La Mesa, her yard is usally a tropical paraside. Guess we all have our problems this season.

                            1. re: coll

                              I dug into the area where I had planted the bokashi on Feb. 24th and other than a couple of recognizable pieces of eggshell it's all beautiful black dirt now.

                              1. re: weezieduzzit

                                Mom was out visiting sis in SD and they were all complaining about the weather last week. Although she admitted that with the drought, you could see the palm trees perk right up.

                                Anyway here on Long Island we were up to 55 yesterday but snow predicted today so I haven't done much with the mulch yet this season. Just realized I'd better get my indoor seeds going!

          2. Another thing to consider is the lasagna method of building a garden bed. We have 30 inches of snow in the garden right now but there's time in the early spring to add accumulated kitchen scraps, chopped leaves, etc to beds before you need to plant in them. Some people call it sheet composting (I think). My first lasagna style beds were build a year ahead when we couldn't put in a garden (moved to a new house June 1 and were too busy with renovations). I kept layering things because ideally you want the bed about 24 inches tall. It compacts over winter. My original bed built in 2007 is flush with the lawn now. I top off the beds with aged horse manure in the spring. So even if your compost isn't finished, you can put it in certain beds such as where you will plant squash and tomatoes. We don't have critters getting into our open bins but sometimes have crows. You could use garbage pails if you need to keep it covered although a 5 gallon pail gets pretty heavy. I use old sheetrock compound pails.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dfrostnh

              Yeah last year was only the second year for me, and right at the end something carefully picked and ate all my remaining tomatoes. Guessing raccoons since it seemed to happen at night. Going to try my local farmers trick of playing an AM talk radio station through the night once the fruit is on the vine and see if that helps. I don't care about the compost, but the vegetables....that's another story!

              I did a sort of lasagna when I started, but ended up with 6 " wood beds (or maybe 8" at the most) wish I could have afforded to fill 24 inch but not at the present time unfortunately. I did add a good amount of manure (goat, chicken and horse) last fall, hoping that counts for something next season!

            2. keep piling it in there. even if it just freezes as soon as it starts to warm up it will rot down.

              My grandma lived in a seniors home and couldn't bare to throw out banana peels and tea bags etc so used to keep a container in her freezer shed fill up and give me to put in my compost.

              3 Replies
              1. re: daislander

                That'll be me in a few years ;-)

                1. re: coll

                  Yeah, and me! We compost all through winter even though the bins get really full as we just cannot bear to throw compostables away. We add layers of newspaper too which seems to help with the composting process once spring arrives.

              2. saw a show last night on a cable HD channel
                show about pizza
                one of the northern states, i believe minn
                largest mushroom farm in the country
                in underground limestone mines that were repurposed
                using straw and grass, aerating with water, adding chicken, horse, cow manure
                laying out under cover in zero degree temperatures, and the piles were steaming hot within a week or two
                they said 175 degrees internally

                1 Reply
                1. re: macsak

                  Ah well, I bought a nice mix of manure from a local farm but put it directly on the beds in the fall. It didn't seem to melt any of the snow we got this season. Last year I only bought one bag so I put it in the bin, but this year there was too much. I'll have to research further for next year. What is the Rodale saying floating around the Internet, the biggest crop of your garden is hope.

                2. My compost pile is on the ground and keeps warm all year round. I add to it all thru the winter and turn it over infrequently. It is always warm underneath and full of wormies. I guess the above ground drums like yours are a bit more efficient but they do freeze up especially during the last brutally cold winter.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Motosport

                    I tried doing compost on the ground at first and discovered I'm too lazy to remember to toss it all the time. Hence it never composted at all. The bin is better for people like me, I do get a nice compost with tons of worms in it (where they come from I have no idea!)

                    Many years ago, when my husband was in charge of the garden, we had a major compost pile on the ground in the back. One day while turning it, we found an enormous...more than enormous...colony of either termites or winged ants living inside. We even found the queen, it was like a horror movie. Luckily it was way back in the woods and not near the house. But is was so disgusting that we somehow got it all into our Volvo station wagon and took it to a nearby landfill, then breathed a sigh of relief. So maybe that's part of it too.

                    1. re: coll

                      You gave termites a ride in your Volvo??

                      1. re: Motosport

                        Yeah that was our "junky" car, one of the old orange station wagons that you used to see around. Got it used, the dealer was hiding it in the back of the lot. Nothing junky about the engine though!

                        I can't remember exactly how we did it, I think with tarps. It was very traumatic I must say.

                        1. re: coll

                          You should have put them in the Corvette!!! VROOOOOM!!

                          1. re: Motosport

                            There was WAY more than would have fit in there, even without me along for the ride. I'll probably be having remembrance nightmares tonight now.