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The Easiest Way to Compost in the Winter | Organic Gardening 365
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The Easiest Way to Compost in the Winter

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Fall leaves ready to compostA couple of winters ago I inadvertently discovered a simple new way to compost the fall leaves that somehow didn’t make it into my regular compost pile during fall cleanup.

I call it Gutter Composting.

Let me explain how I made this amazing discovery.

In the fall, I was really swamped with all the normal business of life and somehow I just didn’t get all the leaves swept off this one section of my sidewalk.

I  kept meaning to get out there and take care of it, but somehow I couldn’t find the fifteen minutes to get it done. Then we had an early snow. And it wasn’t just a duster. More like 6 inches.

So here I am shoveling the snow off the sidewalk into the street and all those leaves are mixed in with the snow. It was an icy, frozen mess and made the shoveling a bit more strenuous but it was not that big of a deal. I kept kicking myself for not having found the time to clean those leaves up before the snow. Oh well, it’s not the end of the world, I told myself.

Here comes the snow plow

Unfortunately, I was a bit too quick to shovel because right after I got the sidewalk cleared, the town snow plow came through and plowed the snow and leaves I had just deposited in the street back up on the sidewalk. I knew better, but I have since made sure not to shovel my sidewalks until after the snow pl0ws have finished their rounds.

I had just shoveled this sidewalk. Argh!

I had just shoveled this sidewalk. Argh!

So here I was, staring at the same wintery mix of snow and leaves back where they started. I rolled up my sleeves (only metaphorically, since it was so cold out) and RE-shoveled the mess back into the street. And that was that I thought. In the spring, the town street sweeper would clean all the mess up.

Back to you snow plow...

Back to you snow plow…

But little did I know it would not be that simple.

Each time it snowed, the snowplows would do their thing with the result that those darn leaves wound up back on my sidewalk. I would shovel them back into the gutter. The snow would melt and there were the leaves, a dark brown mess in the street. It began to feel like a giant game of gutter tennis. The snow plow and I took turns returning the leaves to each other’s side of the court.

Here we go again!

Here we go again!

A new way to compost

Each time this happened, the leaves lost more of their original appearance as leaves and began to look more like compost. Somewhere in the middle of February, it dawned on me that I had discovered a wonderful new way to compost leaves in the winter.

This mush of leaves really did look like compost, just like the leaves in my compost pile would look sometime next summer. And this gutter compost had all the benefits of extra minerals from all the sand and salt the town trucks spread on the streets before they plowed the snow.

Almost ready...

Almost ready…

By the end of March, my compost was really looking good. It had been through 6 or 7 cycles of sidewalk-to-gutter and back.

A tragedy occurs

But then, a terrible thing happened. The weather was warming up; we had not had any more snow and I got preoccupied with various spring duties in the garden and activities with my family.

I was inside reading the newspaper one morning when I heard that dreaded sound outside: the street sweepers. My procrastination, which was the source of my discovery this new way to compost, was now to be my punishment. Before I could get organized to go save my first batch of gutter compost from the street, it was gone, swept up in a big tank of a truck and whisked away with me helpless to do anything about it.

And so it is…

As gardeners, we learn by trial and error, trial and success. I learned that I should get all the leaves off my sidewalks before the first snow. And that I should never wait too long to get to the appointed task in the garden.

So what do you think of my idea of composting in the gutter during the winter? If you don’t live where snow plows can help you out with the process, I feel sorry for your disadvantage. But just remember what day it is:

April Fools!

I am not at all serious about making compost in the gutter. Although the events of the story above are factual, I never intended to actually make compost out of those leaves. The exhaust from cars and salt accumulated in the snow by the end of winter would be very harmful to the soil and any plants in your garden. My big mistake was wasting those leaves by not getting them into my real compost pile before the first snow.

I hope you are gearing up for spring. I certainly am. Even though winter still seems to have its grip here in Connecticut, it is getting warmer bit by bit and pretty soon we will see the flowers of April. Just yesterday, I saw the first crocus leaves peaking through the sod. No blossoms yet, but they will be soon to follow.

Enjoy Spring.


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