FARGO — It’s difficult to imagine anything green during those long stretches when snow piles up on the streets of Fargo-Moorhead, but some residents are preparing for gardening, even in the cold.

Composting: It’s natural, environmentally conscious and extremely valuable to anyone who wants to grow things. The catch is, it’s normally reserved for the summer.

In fact, Cass and Clay counties only collect residential yard waste during the spring, summer and fall. During those seasons, collections of yard waste are accepted at sites in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth.

Unfortunately, we're just getting to that time of year now, and winters can drag on for several months each year.

Composting is the method of taking organic waste like grass clippings, leaves, ashes and paper and turning it into a new useful garden product that helps plants grow.

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Getty Images / Special to The Forum
Getty Images / Special to The Forum

Traditional composting, which takes place in the warmer seasons, puts together all these waste products, mixes them and allows microorganisms in the compost to break down the waste into a nutrient-rich substance called humus. You shouldn’t dip your chips in this stuff, but your garden will think it’s delicious.

Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and surrounding communities provide collection areas during the aforementioned seasons so residents can contribute to massive compost sites. During certain spring and fall dates, each household in the area is entitled to a free yard of compost.

Even ignoring the missing heat — we’ll get to that part later — the limits on collections during the winters make sense. The yards are buried, so that means there is no yard waste. That means there’s nothing to be composted during winter months… right?

Wrong. After winter buries our lawns and gardens, we still have plant matter that goes to waste, from the leftover plate of carrots to the lettuce you forgot about in the fridge. All of these things can be recycled and composted during the winter — just not through the city.

How to start a compost pile

So, now we can talk about that pesky cold part of Fargo-Moorhead winters that we're just putting behind us for another year. You can begin your own compost pile at any time of the year, but its benefits start to appear when the city shuts down its collections.

To start, you need to determine where your compost pile will be. You can either buy a container, like the ones available from the city of Fargo, or build your own.

Without heat, a compost pile will never be as efficient over the winter, but according to the Green Action Center, that’s no reason to put your recycling efforts to a standstill.

“Even though your compost might freeze solid and decomposition come to a complete stop, there is no need to stop composting,” the Winnipeg-based website reads. “In fact, the freeze-thaw cycles will help to break down the materials that you are adding, so they will decompose even faster when the spring arrives.”

There are also many things you can do to preserve the little heat that remains in your personal compost pile during the cold season, such as not mixing the pile like you would in warmer months, cutting waste materials into smaller pieces so decomposition can happen quicker and insulating your bin with cardboard or tinfoil, according to a presentation by Linda McDonald, executive director of the Alberta Coordinated Action for Recycling Enterprises.

Try vermicomposting

Getty Images / Special to The Forum
Getty Images / Special to The Forum

Worms often get a bad rap, but they’re excellent at recycling organic matter — especially if you don’t have the appropriate environment outside.

Vermicomposters use red wiggler worms to do all the work when the weather isn't quite cooperative.

“For vermicomposting, you need a bin (plastic bins work) with a lid that you can add air holes to and drainage at the bottom,” Kimberly Morris, project coordinator at Fargo-Moorhead's River Keepers, says. “The red wiggler worms need slightly moistened bedding such as shredded up newspaper (it should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge) and food scraps. This is a great method for people who do not have a lot of space in their yard to compost or apartment dwellers.”

River Keepers is a local organization dedicated to maintaining the health of the Red River. On April 29 and May 14, the group will offer classes through Moorhead Community Education on how to craft traditional composting bins. They were made aware of the vermicomposting method when an experienced local shared an informational packet.

The best part of vermicomposting is that it can happen at the same pace all throughout the year. Once the bin is set up, you can continue to feed the worms kitchen scraps like fruits and vegetables while avoiding products such as meat, dairy and foods cooked in oil to be rewarded with nutrient-rich castings for plants.

There might be more options for composters over the summer, but locals can still give it a try and keep food waste out of the landfill throughout the year — if they plan ahead.

This article was originally published on The Skrive, Forum Communications' storytelling platform. Visit theskrive.com to find more posts and share your own stories or articles.


Logan Peterson is an MSUM apprentice with the Marcil Center for Innovative Journalism. He is majoring in English and mass communications and will graduate in May 2019.