Give Thanks to your Garden: Compost Thanksgiving Scraps

Every Thanksgiving, American families gather around the table, feast on a variety of mouthwatering dishes, and give thanks for what they have. This year, gardeners, whose green bean casseroles and roasted vegetables came from right out back, should give thanks to their gardens, too. How? By composting your Thanksgiving scraps! 

Thoughtful Cooking

For most home cooks, making Thanksgiving dinner is hectic. The kids are racing around the island; the cat is stealing bits of Turkey from the counter; Grandma Ruth is secretly adding salt to the potatoes; and, of course, you’re trying to beat the clock and get everything on the table before nightfall. Composting is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But according to WorldWatch Institute, Americans generate three times as much food waste between Thanksgiving and New Years as we do the rest of the year. So reducing your waste really should be on your mind this holiday.

If you want to compost your Thanksgiving scraps this year, get organized before you begin cooking. Separate your kitchen into stations based on which scraps can be put together and then hang a trash bag or place a bucket in the station. While you’re cooking, simply toss the scraps into the bag or bucket.

Separate the compost bags/buckets into the following categories:

  • Veggies/fruits/egg shells
  • Bones
  • Bread/pastries

Do not compost meat. Doing so will attract animals and unwanted pests. Besides, there is no reason to waste meat that is perfectly edible. And while many advise against composting bones, you actually can compost them, but you must use a hot compost pile. (If you feel iffy on this issue, you can view this chart, which delineates which scraps can be cold- and hot-composted.)

Composting Thanksgiving Scraps

You can compost your veggies (this includes potato peelings and gourds), fruits, and egg shells in either a cold or hot compost pile.

Cold Composting  

A cold compost pile is one that does not require a higher temperature in order for its components to decay. These compost piles usually take longer (a few months to a year) to break down scraps into usable compost, but they require minimal effort. We recommend using a cold compost pile if you do not plan to compost your turkey bones and carcass.

To compost veggies, fruits, and egg shells, simply toss them into the compost pile in your yard. You can use peelings, rinds, and toppings for compost, but you should remove any seeds and save them for your garden! Fruits and vegetables are a valuable source of nitrogen and will enrich the soil; egg shells provide calcium, which helps plants build cell walls.

Hot Composting 

A hot compost pile is one that requires a temperature between 141 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit to break down materials. These compost piles require more effort but work much more quickly. You can compost your turkey bones and carcass in a hot compost pile because they will break down more quickly, which means you won’t attract animals or other pests to your yard.

To create a hot compost pile, you’ll need both green and brown compost items (green = nitrogen rich and brown = carbon rich). In order to heat up correctly, the pile will need two parts carbon to one part nitrogen.

Green items include food waste, egg shells, grass clippings, manure, and bones. Brown items include autumn leaves, twigs, wood chips, and shredded paper.

Composting Bones 

Before you compost your bones, they must first be cooked. Boiling them for stock or gravy is an excellent way to prepare them for composting while getting one last use out of them. We recommend boiling them between eight and 24 hours. Once you’ve boiled the bones and the meat and fat have fallen off, you should cut the bigger pieces into smaller pieces, which will help them decay faster.

When you’re ready to compost your bones, begin gathering your materials. Place one part bones and Thanksgiving scraps to two parts twigs, decaying leaves, and wood chips in a pile. Dampen the pile by adding water (you want it to feel like a damp sponge). Then place a compost thermometer in the pile and monitor its temperature regularly. If the temperature drops, add more water and turn the pile. You’ll need to do this several times to keep it warm.

As for stale bread or pastries, you can compost these in your cold compost, but consider feeding them (if safe) to birds or chickens. If you’d rather compost them, remember to bury them in the ground to keep from attracting animals.

Feeding your Plants

Plants need food, just as we do. And while plants have portion-control down to a science (as opposed to us humans), they will be grateful for the added nutrients your composted Thanksgiving scraps will provide. When your compost is ready, remember to pair it with a good fertilizer to make sure your plants receive the nutrients they need.

xVital, our all natural nitrate fertilizer, is an excellent addition to compost. Gardeners seeking environmentally-friendly fertilizer options will love xVital, as it contains no chemicals or salts and, unlike conventional fertilizers, does not contribute to runoff. Our fertilizer comes with an online ratio calculator, which lets you determine how much nitrogen to give your plants. This is perfect for those looking to add a little more nitrogen to their compost.

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Hot Composting vs. Cold Composting

Sustainable Thanksgiving