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By Laurel Pattenden

A couple of months ago, I decided to start a winter compost pile.

I know, right now you are thinking, “What a fun gal!”, and you would be right!

Looking into this adventure, I learned that there are many different methods and means to make compost piles. Much of this information most of you probably know but it was all new to me.

All compost piles need a selection of Browns and Greens. So what are Browns and Greens? Browns are the dry brown leaves, straw, shredded paper and sawdust that produce carbon. Greens are the wet vegetable scraps and grass clippings that produce the nitrogen.

Layer these organics and stir occasionally. Add some moisture and it does all the work. Sounds simple enough to me.

So the newly purchased pristine, silver pail has been placed beneath the kitchen sink to collect our veggie scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds. The instructions failed to mention the chance of an arising organic aroma, aka stink, that can be detected if this pail is not emptied often enough. Plus washed. The picture on the box, that my pail came in, no longer resembles the messy, stinky can under the sink.

Moving on to gathering more greens, I have noticed a great shortage of grass cuttings in December, January and February. So just a heads up. If attempting winter composting you may run into a shortage of said clippings unless your grass grows greener on your side.

That being said, winter composting actually needs more browns than greens. Small blessing here! Browns are dryer and keep the pile from getting too wet.

Now I found out the trick to the brown compost is to have it cut, chopped or torn up into smaller pieces before layering it. Always trying my best to follow instructions, I spent hours at our little home shedder feeding it all the packing paper that comes with online shopping.

Why it took hours was because my husband could smell the tiny motor overheating. Kindly informed me I could only shred so many minutes in a ten minute period. So the motor could cool. Who knew there would be so many boundaries to this free spirited, environmental endeavour to produce compost!

Next was the easy step to gather the dry leaves. Not even thinking that leaves would behave in a non-compliant manner, but given the time of year, they were all wet and mucky. Probably should have been mulched in November. So I added the leaves, whole and mucky, with a dash of prayer.  

The compost pile was completed now. Layered properly to my diminishing standards. I placed a tarp on top that was held down by large chunks of wood.

After the cold Christmas storm I eagerly took off the tarp. Of course, first I had to chip the ice off the chunks of wood before peeking under the tarp. With amazement I saw the top layer of leaves still whole with their tad of frozen muck!

Not allowing myself to feel defeated, I dug down a little hoping to feel the start of a little warmth. Pulling out my frozen hand covered in coffee grounds, I placed the tarp lovingly back, tossing the wood pieces on to hold it down, I promptly went in the house.

Did I mention starting a compost pile in winter is a very difficult thing to do? Have I written that you can purchase compost starter mix? I purchased some immediately.

Sometimes, I can feel like that winter compost pile. Lovingly put together and full of expectations. Hoping that I have the right amount of Browns and Greens to produce a warm spirit. The right mixed ratio to create the warm heart of a compost pile.

However, life interruptions and loss can cool our spirits. Accomplishments not achieved, being busy, striving hard to remain relevant can cause what I call “winter spirit”. Just as it is very hard to near impossible to compost in the winter, the world today is harsh on our spirits.

This is when I promptly return to the house and order some starter mix.

There are two starter mixes that have found me over the past year that helped alleviate “winter spirit”.

The first is a blog by a Canadian spiritual director, Esther Hizsa. The name of the blog is “An Everyday Pilgrim” and if you sign up it arrives quietly every Friday in your email inbox. Delightful reflections and poetry that can add warmth our “winter spirit”.  Esther has also written three books and you can find the titles online.

The other resource is also online called the SALT Project. It has a collection of reflections, poetry, art and biblical topics. Some starter mix for you. Enjoy them!

I don’t seem to always have access to all the browns and greens I need. I don’t have fresh grass clippings in January. Finding spiritual resources for “winter spirit” is like finding fresh grass clippings! I remain hopeful for my winter compost pile. A little starter mix and the sun returning will warm its heart!  

Laurel is retired and likes to spend her time in her art studio.