Starting a compost in winter

This has been a very cold, very snowy (snowiest on record, more falling as I type this, on March 28) winter. Even in these toughest conditions you can successfully start a compost and get it cooking.

Started in the coldest weather, it took three weeks for this pile to heat up.

I took this photo March 23, about one month after starting a new compost pile. Despite outdoor temperatures reaching above freezing only a few times, the pile was up over 100*. A week later the compost temperatures have been hovering between 110-120.

How did I do this? The most important part was probably having a compost bin available to use.* I added as usual: 1 part food scraps, 2 parts carbon (shredded leaves, many left in the bin), as fast as I could. I also added two big bags of used coffee grounds from Starbucks.

As I’ve said before, we have a lot of food scraps because we do a lot of vegetarian cooking – that helps. Sometimes neighbors, community organizations or others can help by providing their vegetarian food scraps. Getting a critical mass of food in the unit quickly helps it heat up. However, if you add material slowly, it only means that your compost will be slower to heat, which isn’t a problem.

This photo was taken March 12, 2015. These are the tops of a low tunnel poking through the snow. They weren’t visible for months.

Given the snow still on the ground and the predicted 3″ more today, I’m not sure when I’ll get to do anything in the garden. This compost pile probably won’t be ready until May, at the earliest. At that point it will be great for topping off some potato containers, mulching the vegetable gardens or to spread on the lawn.

So don’t let cold weather dissuade you from starting a compost. You can do it even in record-breaking winters!

*This bin had been full of shredded leaves. A few weeks prior, I emptied most of the leaves so I could start this pile.

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Winter Composting do’s, don’ts and what if it doesn’t?

Thermometer is frosty, but inside the bin it is a cozy 140 F.

Thermometer is frosty, but inside the bin it is a cozy 140 F.

Winter composting always seems to confuse people, which is understandable.

So what is the secret to successful winter composting: Do the same things you do when composting the rest of the year, only faster. Continue reading

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Preparing for the Great Melt

If you live in Greater Boston*, you need to do this – now.

Do this now, even if you’ve never had a flood before, because we’ve never had snow like this before.

Do this now, even if you believe that the snow won’t melt for weeks to come, because until this year, we’ve never had snow like this arrive at this time before. (And who knows what will take up your time before then.) Continue reading

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Got ice dams?

 

Fill stockings with rock salt - any stockings will do.

Fill stockings with rock salt – any stockings will do. (Photo courtesy of Roma Costume, via Creative Commons, all rights reserved.)

A very brief and unadorned post about ice dams, which lots of people are contacting me about.

This is a very brief primer on what you need to do now, even if the roofer gets all the ice off. After you’ve taken care of the ice dams, be sure to read how to save money by keeping them away. Continue reading

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Recycling pumpkin recycling

Pumpkin recycling station 2-top onlyI’ve addressed pumpkin recycling in the past, but it is worth revisiting and updating with a new flyer you can use, below.

The idea is this: In most municipalities, you’re not supposed to put pumpkins in the yard waste, so it goes in the garbage which we (taxpayers) pay to dispose of by weight. Continue reading

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Compost: Stuff you need to start composting

It is the most basic of questions: What ‘stuff’ do I need to if I’m going to start composting?

Not surprisingly, the answers are simple and inexpensive. You can compost with a gold-plated compost unit or some pallets tied together, and you can always change things around later.

Here are some basics that I recommend: Continue reading

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“Can I compost it?” flowchart

I have no intent of replicating the many, many lists available online telling you what is compostable. (Though it is usually the most popular question people ask me.)

Instead, below is a handy flowchart (.pdf version here) you can hang on the refrigerator for those who keep asking you, “Can I compost this?”

Handy-dandy compost flowchart

Handy-dandy compost flowchart

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Wicked light, wicked strong, compost sifter

Compost screens, finished and unfinished.

Compost screens, finished and unfinished.

I’ve taught a few classes and done some exhibits about compost recently and have had a great time answering questions.

Several people have asked about the sifter/screen I use. I always point out that you don’t really need a screen, or that in a pinch a milk crate will do the job, but if you want a screen to give you a finer product, then this is a great, sturdy, lightweight unit.

Most people with just a few tools can build this compost screen which is designed to be light enough that people with limited upper-body strength can use it. The arms rest across most wheelbarrows and it is sturdy enough to handle sifting compost or getting rocks out of soil. Continue reading

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Raccoons and Compost: A Common Sense Primer

Raccoons live among us. They lived here before we composted. They lived here before we put out cat food, garbage cans, or bird feeders.

 If everybody stopped composting tomorrow, raccoons would still thrive here.

Continue reading

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Free light bulbs from Mass Save

I received a bunch of free CFL and LED bulbs from MassSave as a blogger. I was very clear that I was going to say what I wanted, not necessarily nice things. I held up my end of the bargain, as you’ll see below.

Update, 12/13/2014: Two important notes about this post. 1. It is old enough that some of these bulbs are no longer in production, let alone used by MassSave anymore. 2. This is, to me, the least interesting post on this website. Hopefully you’ll take a few moments to read other, more interesting posts on this website. Thanks!

MassSave is a great program which offers “free” energy audits to MA residents and

CFL samples Mass Save sent.

Some of the CFL samples Mass Save sent.

commercial property owners. Non-profit entities are not eligible for most services. (“Free” is in quotes because the funding comes from all of our energy bills, so we have, in fact, paid for the service. That’s fine and good in my book.)

If you haven’t had a free audit, go sign up for one, now. Go, I’ll wait. Done? Good. (If your last audit was four years ago, do it again. They’ve improved dramatically.) Continue reading

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