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Christmas Composting Guide

compost bin
Source: Alan Levine on Flickr – Licence

Christmas is almost upon us, and it is a great opportunity to gather together lots of composting materials and get a head start on spring’s supply of compost. We generate huge amounts of waste at this time of year, and most of it can be composted.

If you’re using the hot composting method, you can compost most cooked food — even your turkey carcass and leftover Christmas pud. However, you will need to break a carcass up into smaller pieces, as the bones will take a long time to break down. You can compost all your peelings, but if you’re not using the hot method, avoid adding potato peelings, as these are likely to start growing in your compost pile.

Don’t forget to add some carbon ingredients (sawdust, dead leaves, pine needles) to balance out the wet materials, or you will end up with a soggy, foul-smelling mess. The RHS has a good guide to help you balance your compost ingredients.

You can add your discarded wrapping paper to the compost, along with cardboard packaging, gift tags, cards and envelopes. Avoid foil and shiny/waxy material, however, as these won’t break down at all and may contain unwanted chemicals. You can also add paper Christmas decorations, serviettes, crackers and paper plates. Rip up any paper-based material to aid the decomposition process.

Once your wreaths of holly, ivy and mistletoe adornments have started to fade, you can throw these in, as they’re a great source of carbon.

Your Christmas tree can be composted, but it will need to be chopped up very small, which would be an exhausting job. Why not take your tree to the local garden centre and ask them to chip or mulch it for you or talk to your local council who will often collect with the regular garden waste?

Source: SuSanA Secretariat on Flickr – Licence

General winter composting tips

The cold temperatures in winter months make the bacteria in a compost pile less active, slowing the decomposition process. However, there are several ways to avoid this problem:
– If you have an open compost pile, covering it with tarp or carpet will keep the snow and ice off your compost and help retain any heat it generates.
– Resist turning your pile too often, as this moves the heated core and cools the pile down.
– Surround your compost pile with hay bales to keep the heat in.
– When positioning your compost pile initially, place it in an area that gets a lot of direct sun so that the compost pile is warmed naturally.
– Use a compost tumbler, which allows you to turn your mixture on a daily basis without cooling it down. Mantis has several to choose from — read their compost tumbler comparison page to find out more.
– If you have a compost tumbler, consider moving it inside, into a garage or shed. This protects it from frost and snow, and the heat speeds up the decomposition process.
– Using vermiculture (AKA a wormery) can be a good alternative in the winter months. To start this off you need to fill a bin with bedding such as straw, peat moss, soil and shredded paper and some composting worms. You can then put your kitchen scraps into the bin. In three to four months the worms will have done all of the hard work for you.
– An alternative method of composting in the winter months is to dig a pit or trench and place scraps and garden debris into it before covering with soil. This will make use of any stored heat in the soil.