Composting in the mountains, and in the winter?

I finally did it!

I finally started composting in the mountains! Composting is not only great for the environment, but it’s great for your garden, too. It provides an ample, clean source of rich soil additive for your gardens. For many years I was really terrified about attracting bears…and there’s plenty of hype on the internet about bears being attracted to compost piles.

The only time we’ve had a bear visitation was when I was defrosting a whole turkey in the fridge overnight. Sure enough that smart bear got in the front door (which wasn’t locked, lesson learned…) tip-toed into the kitchen (right outside my bedroom door), opened the fridge and grabbed the whole turkey in her teeth. Nobody in the house woke up until we heard the stock pot crashing to the floor which startled the bear as much as it did everyone else.

Amazingly nothing got broken, but suffice it to say we were paranoid enough to not take any chances. We banged our pots and pans trying to scare her away, but she sat on the hillside behind our house undaunted crunching away at her prize. Oh yeah – and she made off with the bag of trash sitting by our front door, too. No wonder our house smelled so appealing! With such rich winnings, you bet she came back for more. We secured the house and started taking out the trash twice a week, and storing it in an airtight container in the meantime.

Living with bears in the Colorado Rockies takes wisdom and respect. They are incredibly smart, and seem to be most hungry in the springtime when they awaken from a long winters’ hibernation. Bears will tear a tent apart for a tube of toothpaste and they will destroy a car for that candy bar you hide in the glove box. Bears are even attracted to bird feeders – so it’s an unwritten rule in the mountains that you can feed the hummingbirds in the summer, and the songbirds in the winter when the bears are sleeping soundly.

Back to composting…

I have been amazed at my mountain friends and neighbors who successfully compost their kitchen scraps in large outdoor piles and boxes – unsecured, no “bear-proof” compost bins, not even covered – and with no interference from local wildlife. How do they do it?

Turns out, if you compost correctly – your outdoor composting pile will never be a viable temptation to wildlife beyond squirrels and occasionally ravens. Composting correctly involves:

  • proper ventilation on all sides
  • regular maintenance including turning, watering (when dry), and incorporating activators for healthy microbial activity
  • compost the RIGHT materials!

Bones, meat scraps, dog food, savory, oily, and especially anything fishy or nutty is like sending invitations for a bear convention. Those bits should go in the trash – or into your bone broth sitting on the back burner. On a positive note – here is a short-list of some of the most common and wonderful things to add to your compost:

  • coffee grinds and filters (especially unbleached and organic)
  • tea, tea bags
  • eggshells
  • raw fruits and vegetables
  • leaves and needles
  • peanut shells
  • limited amount of ashes from your fireplace

Seeing all my friends amazing composting solutions – from nailing palletes together to wrapping chicken wire around four posts in the ground – inspired me to re-purpose my kiddo’s old changing table. This table was really on it’s last legs, anyway, literally in pieces on top of the kindling pile!

I started the bottom layer of my compost with rakings from the yard to help with airflow

I started the bottom layer of my compost with rakings from the yard to help with airflow

A few nails and a little mesh that I found under the porch, et voila!

my kiddos old changing table turned into a compost

my kiddos old changing table turned into a compost

Now that we’re composting and recycling, our total household trash is less than one 30 gallon bag per week. Any time of year is great for getting a compost going. I motivated myself by starting with a coffee can in our kitchen thinking, “by the time this thing is full, I will have a working compost in the back yard.” Our carbon footprint is getting smaller…one ambitious project at a time.

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