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You Got Your Winter Compost, You Got Your Summer Compost: What To Do With Your Potato Peels All Year Round

Updated on August 7, 2015
Spring and fall are fine. It's summer and winter when the composting gets crazy! Which is worse, a compost jar that smells funky, with gnats all around it, or a compost pail that's frozen solid? Might be a toss-up.
Spring and fall are fine. It's summer and winter when the composting gets crazy! Which is worse, a compost jar that smells funky, with gnats all around it, or a compost pail that's frozen solid? Might be a toss-up.

These ceramic jars hold a lot of coffee grounds & potato peels

I like the jars with a felted filter system inside the lid, which keep odors in & gnats out. Once in a while, I rinse the jar & filters & let them dry.
I like the jars with a felted filter system inside the lid, which keep odors in & gnats out. Once in a while, I rinse the jar & filters & let them dry.

The compost jar on the counter is nice, but. . .

. . .whatcha gonna do with it when it's full?


In the winter, it may be hard to get to the compost pile or bin if they are away from the house and you have to snowshoe out there.


In the summer, if the bin is really close to the house, it's handy but a few gnats are gonna be hanging out there, and if you take the lid off on a hot & humid day, that organic smell is. . .funky, man.

The good news is that the compost bin's not stinky in January

The compost is going to freeze once winter sets in, which means it won't rot down, which means the bin will get full.
The compost is going to freeze once winter sets in, which means it won't rot down, which means the bin will get full.

Depends of course on where you live

In Maine, the snow tends to pile up. The compost bin is out there. . .somewhere.
In Maine, the snow tends to pile up. The compost bin is out there. . .somewhere.

Keeping compost worms warm

Redworms freeze in winter. They may be just fine if they live down in a deep compost pile or garden bed where they can burrow down below the soil surface and keep themselves at a good temperature. But if the worms are in bins, as mine are, they need to be in an environment that's 40 degrees Fahrenheit or above.


In late fall, I move my worm bins into the basement. I raise the worms in plastic storage bins, the type used for holiday decorations and out-of-season clothes. Around Thanksgiving, the bins come down the basement stairs, and the worms go into winter hibernation mode. There are a few food scraps left from autumn in the bins, and I don't add any more. I make sure there are two or three layers of wet cardboard covering the worms and their brown paper/cardboard bedding, and then I snap down the bin lids and leave the worms alone until I am ready to move the bins back outside to the garage in March. The worms' metabolisms slow way down when temperatures drop; if I put veggie scraps in there, they will rot before the worms get them eaten.

In the winter, compost worms snooze & they wake up in the spring

Redworms wake up and get their wiggle on when temperatures go up into the 50s F.
Redworms wake up and get their wiggle on when temperatures go up into the 50s F.

Frozen vegetables, redefined

Okay, so in the winter, your tomato skins and carrot tops and wilted beet greens are going to freeze. The good news is that you can store them pretty easily. All the creatures which get into compost piles looking for goodies -- skunks, raccoons, and the like -- won't be around much and nature's furry creatures won't smell the lovely turnip peels if they ARE sniffing around. You can probably put the compost in heavy duty trash bags over the winter if you can shut those up in the garage or a shed.


If you don't have an enclosed space, then your next best bets are either a big rubber or plastic or metal trash can with a lid, or a plastic storage bin with a snap-on cover. The issue is volume; in warm months, compost gets smaller as the water evaporates and the potato peels and dead lettuce leaves shrivel. In the winter, it all stays in suspended animation and so the more you add, the more you need a place to store it.

In the summer, it helps to separate wet & dry

In warm months, I've got two compost bins. One is for brown leaves and green grass cuttings and the kind of veggie cuttings which aren't mushy and wet -- hard ends of raw sweet potatoes, shriveling carrot ends, that kind of stuff. I can put all of this into my large compost yard bin and put the lid on loosely and I'm good. That compost never gets smelly or gross, and animals aren't interested in it.


The bucket of wetter stuff, like coffee grounds and soft vegetable pieces, does get a little pungent and the nocturnal animals are always interested to see what's on the menu. Maine, where I live, has a lot of skunks and they will definitely come right up on the back porch to see if that leftover butternut squash from the humans' dinner tastes as good as it smells.


I keep the wet compost in a five-gallon icing bucket I got for free from the bakery department of our local grocery store. The lid snaps down tightly, which traps odors and discourages varmints.


I find the best place for the compost bucket is on the top step of the deck stairs that are on the far side, away from the house. I do have to cross the deck to dump in the morning grounds from the french coffee press, but I like that better than having to look at the compost pail right next to the back door.

Dry compost reduces in size & turns black & crumbly

The pile on the right is what used to fill the bin on the left. I have picked up the bin from around the compost and moved it away to make it easy to shovel up the finished compost and add it to the garden bed.
The pile on the right is what used to fill the bin on the left. I have picked up the bin from around the compost and moved it away to make it easy to shovel up the finished compost and add it to the garden bed.

Wet compost goes into the worm bins

Composting worm bins produce a very rich, dark mix of worm castings and composted veggie scraps. This can be diluted with water & used as organic fertilizer.
Composting worm bins produce a very rich, dark mix of worm castings and composted veggie scraps. This can be diluted with water & used as organic fertilizer.

It's not that bad when you get used to it

After a while, the compost seems normal and not gross. All the green stems are from parsley I used to make tabbouleh. Or tabouli. Spell it as you wish.
After a while, the compost seems normal and not gross. All the green stems are from parsley I used to make tabbouleh. Or tabouli. Spell it as you wish.

This marigold pot is like my aunt's crocheted doily

When I grew up, the answer to a dead television set or a refrigerator on the back porch was to put a crocheted doily on top to show it was now a kind of furnishing. I need the compost bucket handy so I put a potted plant on top.
When I grew up, the answer to a dead television set or a refrigerator on the back porch was to put a crocheted doily on top to show it was now a kind of furnishing. I need the compost bucket handy so I put a potted plant on top.

thank you for reading this!

We do have community garden spaces here in South Portland, Maine but both here and in South Portland, plot spaces are precious and there is a waiting list. It's nice that we have farmer's markets and permaculture meet-ups and some other ways to talk face to face with others about organic farming, natural fertilizer, green manure, composting kitchen scraps, raised bed gardens, and so on. But none of us really have time to do real-time tutorials where we share our skills. So it's so nice to be part of an online community where I can learn in the time I have available in my busy schedule.

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