Dear Sun Spots: If anyone has any gently used board or card games that they are no longer using, please consider donating them to Longley School in Lewiston. Also, outdoor play equipment in good condition and boy’s and girl’s winter coats. If there are any knitters out there who would like to knit hats, mittens or scarves for the kids we can supply the yarn if you’d like to knit something. Donations can be dropped off right at the school or contact Leo at 689-2996. Thank you. – Leo, Lewiston.

Dear Sun Spots: I am looking for a way to continue to compost during the winter months? Any suggestions? – Sheila, Turner.


Answer: One suggestion is to contact the Maine Resource Recovery Association in Bangor for a composting bin. A fellow composter here at the Sun Journal uses his composting bin, which he purchased from the MRRA, throughout the winter. Victor Horton, Executive Director, says they still sell the bins and will begin selling them again in 2009, probably in February. There are some towns in the state that also sell the bins, but Horton noted they are probably out of stock by now. Check with your local transfer station or, if you’d like to purchase a bin next year, contact the MRRA in February at 942-6772 or e-mail [email protected]

Sun Spots also spoke with Mark King, Environmental Specialist for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Maine Compost Team. He explains that the process of composting involves “providing a proper balance of the right amount of the following ingredients: carbon containing compounds such as: leaves, sawdust, etc.; nitrogen containing compounds such as: food scraps, fresh grass, etc.; moisture (water) and air (oxygen) to allow compost microorganisms to thrive and populate.”

For a backyard compost pile, you should use a carbon to nitrogen mixture at 2-3 parts carbon to one part nitrogen. King says that the preferred method is to layer the ingredients. Start with a fairly thick base layer of leaves, dry grass clippings, or sawdust, about 12 to 14 inches deep. This will help absorb any free liquid and promote airflow through the bottom of the pile. Water should be added, as necessary, so that the compost mixture is moist to the touch, but does not freely release water between your fingers when a handful is squeezed. As the compost microorganisms feed and reproduce, heat released from their metabolic activities provide the high temperatures. During the winter, the cold outside temperatures can slow these activities to a standstill.

King offers a few tips to help sustain the compost process even during the coldest winter nights. He said it is important to try and locate your compost pile in a fairly protected area away from strong winds, as the cooling effect of winter temperatures is intensified by strong winds. Another way to protect your piles from the cold is to add an extra layer of leaves, hay or sawdust to provide extra insulation.

Pile size is another important factor. As the compost pile size increases, its ability to self-heat and maintain warm temperatures significantly improves. He often tells home composters to build piles using at least 2-3 cubic yards of carbon-containing material to ensure that the compost process will continue at full force. Also, limiting the amount of times you open the piles to add new ingredients may help keep the piles warm and cozy, since this will expose the inner core of the pile to cool temperatures. Keeping extra buckets handy to help store food scraps works nicely, but be sure to watch out for odors and fruit flies!

If the inevitable occurs and your piles do freeze, don’t worry as they will resume “cooking” once spring thaw comes.

You could also consider purchasing an insulated composter. F.W. Horch Sustainable Goods & Supplies, 56 Maine Street, Brunswick, 729-4050, sells a product called the “Joracomposter JK 125 Insulated Composter.” According to their Web site, the product was designed to enable composting all year long, even in the winter of a cold climate. It is made of galvanized steel and has two separate compartments for composting. While one is fully composting, you fill the second compartment. By the time you’ve filled the second compartment, the first will be ready to empty and add to your garden or green space. View the composting catalog for information at www.fwhorch.net.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be posted at www.sunjournal.com in the Advice section under Opinion on the left-hand corner of your computer screen. In addition, you can e-mail your inquiries to [email protected]


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