As I tidy the garden for winter, it’s time to put compost on the vegetable beds. Compost is amazing stuff–a soil amendment made from things I would otherwise throw away. My maple tree drops all of its leaves, and I rake them up. The whole pile goes into a bin, along with grass clippings, some horse poop, and other yard “waste” like iris leaves. I have another bin for kitchen scraps: coffee grounds, tea bags, carrot peels, apple cores, faded flowers, egg shells, and on and on. During the hottest part of summer, I water the compost, and sometimes poke the spading fork down in to stir it.

What happens is like magic, but it has a scientific explanation. A compost pile is a sort of ecosystem. Invertebrate creatures find their way to the bins, and chew the vegetable matter into smaller pieces. Decay happens. The whole pile cooks and rots. It’s dead stuff, but full of life. Twice a year, I completely turn the piles over, and sift out the finished compost using a hardware cloth screen. Anything not cooked is returned to the bins. I end up with wheelbarrow loads of rich deep brown organic material. Sometimes I use it as mulch, but most of it goes into the vegetable beds to amend the soil.

It seems thrifty and smart to maintain my backyard compost bins. I reduce what I put into the waste stream, and I build my garden soil. There’s no reason not to compost, not even when I have to traipse out the the bins in the dark, in the winter, in the snow. It’s still worthwhile.

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