Start composting now to prepare for spring gardening in Buffalo area

potato image for composting in Buffaloby Connie Oswald Stofko

If you don’t have a compost bin going yet, now is the time to start.

The temperatures should be in the 50s later this week, and you may get a touch of spring fever. Starting a compost bin will give you a garden-related chore during this brief warm spell.

Your goal for the next few weeks is to start accumulating plant materials in your compost bin.

Nothing much will actually happen to the materials for awhile, though. Just as food doesn’t rot in your freezer, the material in your compost bin won’t break down while the temperatures are freezing.

The important thing is to have material in your compost bin. Then, when the warmer spring weather does arrive, the material can start to decompose into rich, fertile medium for your garden soil.

Begin with a garbage can that has a tight-fitting lid. Did you save leaves from the fall? If so, spread a layer of them in the bottom of the can.leaf for composting

Next add kitchen scraps.This is why you need a tight-fitting lid– you don’t want to attract rodents.

Sprinkle some dirt over the top. The dirt contains microbes that will help the decomposition process.

End with another layer of leaves. Repeat the process every time you add kitchen scraps.

Inside the house, I gather my kitchen scraps in a large plastic margarine tub with a lid. In this weather, I may actually wait two or three days before I take the scraps out to the compost bin. In warmer weather, you must do it every day.

Here is what you can use in the compost bin:

  • Peels from potatoes, carrots, onions, bananas, oranges, etc. (Some people say that citrus peels are hard to break down, but I use them anyway.)
  • Apple cores and other parts of fruits and vegetables
  • Corn cobs (they break down nicely)
  • Pumpkins
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds with the filter
  • Tea bags with the string and tag
  • Leaves from your indoor plants (disease-free)
  • Garden plants (disease-free)
  • Dust from vacuum cleaner bags
  • Paper, such as used cupcake holders, used wax paper, cardboard egg cartons, the paper sacks from sugar or flour, wrapping paper and tissue paper
  • Pine cones and sticks (they take a long time to break down)

Sawdust is said to slow down the rate that your compost decomposes, but if you’re not in a great hurry, I think a compost bin is a great way for woodworkers to recycle such material. I throw in shavings from my pencil sharpener.compost in hands

While you could compost lawn clippings, they’re good for your lawn, so you might as well just leave them there. If  we get large clumps of grass clippings because the grass got very long between mowings, I will add the clumps to the compost bin.

You can compost newspaper and mail, but I prefer to just recycle them. I compost any paper that can’t be recycled, such as the items in the last bullet of the list. If you use newspaper to keep down weeds, definitely compost it when you’re through.

Here are some things to leave out of your compost bin:

  • Meat (it harbors unhealthy bacteria)
  • Pet wastes (pathogens could contaminate your vegetables)
  • Weeds, especially if you can see seeds (You’ll get more weeds!)
  • Diseased plants
  • Plants treated with weed killer
  • Anything toxic. If you don’t want it in your garden, don’t put it in your compost bin!

Do you have composting tips? Please share by leaving a comment!

See more articles on composting here.

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9 Comments on “Start composting now to prepare for spring gardening in Buffalo area

  1. I store my household plant/peelings,etc throughout the winter in clean cat litter buckets, which have very tight lids – vermin proof.

    I will fill 4-8 throughout the winter and then add them to my composter when the weather warms up. By spring they will have already begun decaying before being added to the composter.

    I have cats but often find the litter buckets on trash day sitting on top of recycle bins.

  2. Lee,
    What a brilliant way to speed up composting! Thanks also for the tip on how to find the buckets. It’s a great way to reuse something that’s set out for recycling.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. If you use a plastic garbage can with tight fitting lid, does it need air circulation? Can you continue to fill it during the hot weather? Can you use discarded potting soil from indoor plants as a layer?

    I love your newsletter.

  4. Linda,
    You bring up an excellent point. A plastic garbage can with a tight fitting lid doesn’t allow as much air to circulate as other methods. Therefore, this method will take longer. The advantages are that it’s simple, cheap and keeps out pests.

    If you want to increase air circulation and speed up the process, you can pile up your material outside and use a pitchfork to turn the pile every so often. However, I’d be reluctant to add kitchen scraps for fear that they would attract rodents.

    You can also buy closed bins that you can rotate. This kind of equipment allows for better air circulation and speeds up the process, but is more expensive than a garbage can.

    If you use a garbage can, yes you can continue to add to it during the hot weather. The material will decompose much more quickly when it’s warm out.

    Sure, add potting soil. My sister tells me she adds used kitty litter to her compost, but she’s careful not to use it on vegetable plants.

    Thanks so much for your kind words!

  5. I have started a compost bin in a garbage can. It has developed flies. They are small and quite numerous. What should I do?

    I was happy to meet you at the University Community Farmers Market last week.

  6. Linda,
    Although I’m no expert, my advice is to do your best to keep food scraps out of reach of the flies. First, use a tight-fitting lid. Second, anytime you add food scraps, cover it immediately with a layer of leaves and add some dirt.

    One interesting suggestion I found was to hang a clear plastic bag filled with water near your composts bin. Some people swear it really works. The theory is that because the compound eyes of flies have thousands of facets that present them with a mosaic picture of the world, they consider the light refraction in the water confusing or dangerous.

    You can read more here: http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/soil/msg0720264219076.html

    It was great meeting you. Thanks so much for your question.

  7. What would you recommend if I wanted to purchase a bin. Are there any local ones available that work well for a condo patio?

  8. Patricia, I haven’t researched particular brands of composting bins, but here is some general information on composting bins for a condo patio. First, look for one that won’t take up too much space on your condo patio. A plastic trash can will work. You might want to drill some holes in the sides to let in air. However, you might not like how a trash can looks. A plastic compost bin might be a little more aesthetically pleasing, though it’s not a lot different than a garbage can. The compost bins have air vents as part of the design. Fancier ones are tumblers, which are more expensive. Tumbling helps to keep the materials mixed and aerated and is supposed to speed up the composting process, but I haven’t tried them. There are wire composters, which are sort of like cages. That would be fine for leaves, but if the holes are small enough to allow a mouse in, I wouldn’t use it for kitchen scraps. I hope that helps.

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