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Composting Christmas: Put Your Holiday Scraps to Good Use
Composting is the planet’s natural recycling program. You add materials from around the house that you used to consider garbage, and they will decompose into feasts for worms and microbes and give you rich soil for your garden. By composting, you’re using your waste to create more life.
You must learn how to compost correctly, or you’ll just be creating a toxic dump in your backyard. But composting is not as daunting as it sounds: You’re basically throwing stuff in a bin and mixing it with other stuff, rather than tossing it in the garbage can. Composting does take time, though; it will take between six and 12 months for your composter to produce the dark brown, nearly black material that you can add to the soil in the garden.
The holiday season is a great source of composting material. Starting a compost pile in the winter isn’t ideal because compost must be kept dry and because you’ll have more grass clippings and other greenery in the spring. But if you already compost, the holidays produce plenty of material that can be returned to the life cycle by being composted.
Here are some basics to get you started.
Buy or make a composter
The first thing you need is a composter, which you can buy or make yourself. There are many composters on the market: tumblers, grates, bins, pods, even glorified garbage cans. Research the various types online or at a local garden shop and decide which one suits your needs and space requirements; just be sure it has a lid. You also can make a composter with stakes and chicken wire or recycled wooden pallets. Binding, screwing or wiring four wooden pallets together to make a box creates an easy, functional composter and keeps the pallets out of the landfill. (A local grocery, furniture or lumber store, or even a large electronics outlet, may be happy to get rid of its old wood pallets.) My composter is a simple wooden box with slats to allow air to circulate.
Choose a location
The next step is choosing a location for your composter. Use a well-drained, level spot, away from walls or wooden fences. If possible, keep the composter away from trees, too, because their roots will seek the moisture and nutrients in your compost pile. You’ll need to set aside 4 or 5 square feet or 1.5 square meters of space; the more space you have, the easier it is to access it.
Learn what holiday scraps you can compost
Once you have your composter set up, it’s imperative that you learn how to use it correctly. First, lay down a base layer of branches and twigs about 6 inches/15 centimeters deep. (You can even use a wooden pallet for the base layer.) This will help air circulate under the material you will add to the composter: proportionate layers of brown and green material.
Pay careful attention to your holiday waste; much of it is compostable, such as any wreath made from evergreens or other greens, cut flowers and plants.
The green layer can include:
- Grass cuttings
- Tea leaves (including the bag, if it’s made of organic recycled material)
- Coffee grounds
- Dead flowers
- Weeds (leaves only; no roots or seeds)
- Old plants
- Seaweed, green material from ponds, algae
The brown layer can include:
- Wood material, prunings, wood chippings (shredded, if possible)
- Coffee grounds
- Recycled brown paper, cardboard, paper-towel rolls (shredded, if possible)
- Leaves (small quantities)
- Eggshells and paper egg cartons (rinse and crush first)
- Sawdust, wood shavings, pinecones
- Hay and straw (small quantities)
- Clothes dryer lint, pet and human hairs
- Uncooked kitchen scraps that are plant-, vegetable- or fruit-based, without any oils
The following should never be added to your composter:
- Meat or fish
- Grease, oil, cooked food scraps
- Cat litter
- Barbecue ash
There’s no shortage of kitchen scraps around the holidays, and these scraps are either green or brown material, depending on what you’re cooking. Set aside a bin in your kitchen for collecting food-prep scraps. It doesn’t have to be large; I use a stainless steel bucket with a lid, which I keep on the kitchen counter within easy reach. Use the list provided, paying particular attention to what not to include, and start collecting your scraps. (No cooked food can be added to a compost pile because it lacks the necessary enzymes that break it down.) When the container is full, simply empty the bin into your composter and mix it in. If you’re just getting started and the composter is empty, you’ll need to toss in some grass clippings to cover your kitchen scraps to deter pests.
From I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas: Gifts, Decorations, and Recipes that Use Less and Mean More by Anna Getty. Copyright © 2009 Chronicle Books. Republished with permission.