It’s like saying goodbye to an old friend for awhile.

Yesterday I turned the compost and sifted out the good stuff. It is a miracle of nature that the skins, peels, stems and leaves from my kitchen turn into fertilizer. Also coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells and other organic matter. I have a separate pile for leaves, grass clippings and garden leftovers–no reason for two piles, except curiosity. As I dug into the kitchen pile I discovered a prodigious population of red wiggler worms. They found their way to the compost when I started the pile, along with lots of other invertebrates and fungi. They’re all doing a fine job with very little help from me.

The finished compost goes on the raised vegetable beds, which have mostly been harvested and cleaned up. A chicken wire “Kitty Excluder Device” goes over the soil. No cats or other varmints permitted. The ground is already starting to freeze. I work in the sunny cold weather, warm as long as I keep moving.

To glean is to gather the remains. I picked kale and lettuce and parsley with painfully chilly fingers. These small amounts escape my attention when the garden is in full production. I’m busy canning and freezing and drying, and a handful of leaves is barely worth my time. But now morning frosts are hard as iron, and each day is a little shorter. Most of the plants have died or gone dormant. The bees are hunkered in their hive. The only birds are goldfinches that come to the sunflower heads to pluck a seed, and the ravens passing over the house.

It’s time to bring in these last green bits–tender kale leaves for my supper soup, and a few frostbitten chrysanthemums. Transplant a clump of parsley into the plastic tunnel where it will awake early in spring. Cover all with compost mulch, and let it go. Let it go with good wishes for sweet winter dreams.


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.