Making great compost this winter

My husband is a new-age composter.

By that, I mean composting is a new thing for him – something he hasn’t historically been involved with.

And if there is one thing my engineer husband likes it’s a task with logical and direct instructions. He doesn’t want to guess what I need for my birthday, so he isn’t going to guess what pile the potato peels he’s holding should be dumped into.

With a little help though, Keith is learning to both buy great gifts and separate gooey garbage.
“What kind of compost is this Donna?” he asks, wanting to know if the Bokashi bucket under our sink is the best place for the potato peels, or if I have made other plans.

He’s still confused about the worm diet and the purpose behind rotating our backyard pile of leaves. While worms eat most things, they need a balance between wet and dry food. Right now, the worm bin has leaves to balance the wet waste, so I point him to the worm bin.

Keith’s daughter, now all grown up and a mom herself, stands there in awe as she witnesses her dad sort food waste. It is almost inconceivable. She wonders if he wants to try changing a diaper, too?

With winter nearly upon us, it seems a bit late for outdoor compost. Truth is, the food waste we add to the pile now will build, heat up and eventually collapse as the finely prepped pile thaws next spring.

Large chunks of corncob or stumps of broccoli stem sit stubbornly in a compost pile like wet logs on a rainy campfire if they aren’t chopped up and layered with dry material like leaves. Small pieces of green waste, preferably less than a couple of centimetres across, are like kindling in a wood stove. They will fire up the compost once conditions are correct.

That’s not to say worms won’t tackle a full cob of corn – I have found families of red wrigglers spilling out of worm-stuffed cobs after months of hard work. But don’t expect a quick compost.

So we chop up our organic waste into fine pieces. If the weather is fair, I bring my industrial strength “birthday” machete, outside for some satisfying chopping work.

If it’s a cool and frosty day outside, I use my cutting board and biggest knife in the drawer to whittle the corncobs and broccoli blocks and big ribs of kale into bite-sized pieces.

I like the satisfying chop as the cobs splinter into tiny bits under the razor-sharp edge of my new machete. Better than jewelry or a spa day, this gift gives me the thrills and chills of chopping compost to the quick.

Oh and that back yard pile of leaves? I am using some of it to mix with the green kitchen waste, but saving most of it for a special hot compost session next spring. But more on that later.

Donna Balzer is a garden writer and speaker. Check out her blog at or follow on
twitter @NoGuffGardener.