Composting: It’s important, even in winter

Today’s veggie scraps makes tomorrow’s soil

When I was a boy it was one of my many jobs to take out the kitchen scraps every few days and dump them in our woods in a compost pile. Like the postman, I did my job no matter what: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays this boy from the swift completion of his appointed rounds.” I would not say that the postman nor the boy enjoyed their tasks in a blowing rain. But I did it. Now, older and wiser, I still do it.

Making good compost is easy. Plenty has been written about the best way to create that “black gold” we all love to give our plants. There should be the proper mix of ingredients that are high in nitrogen and those that are high in carbon. That will help our microbe pals breakdown leaves, weeds and kitchen scraps into useful biologically active material to support plant growth. Now, in winter, composting is more of a challenge.

Scientists disagree about the ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials to get a compost pile “working.” Some say an even 50-50 mix of materials, but others say up to 30 times more carbon-based materials than those high in nitrogen. Me? I aim for three parts dry, brown material to one part high nitrogen material. Eventually, everything breaks down and turns into compost.

What ingredients are high in nitrogen? Grass clippings, green leaves and weeds. Animal manures are good, but you should never use cat or dog waste. Vegetable scraps, raw or cooked, fall in this category too, and coffee grounds. Moldy broccoli from the back of the fridge? Sure.

High-carbon materials include dead leaves, straw, tea bags, even a little shredded paper. If using newspaper, avoid glossy pages and things with lots of color. Newspapers are pretty benign these days, as they use soy inks and no heavy metals. I keep a supply of fall leaves next to my compost pile and spread a layer over the kitchen scraps every time I empty the compost bucket. That also minimizes flies in summer.

A good compost pile also needs oxygen to work well. And if your pile stays soggy, it won’t allow the microorganisms to get enough oxygen. But if your pile is too dry, the working microbes won’t be able to thrive, either. If you grab a handful and squeeze it, it should feel like a wrung-out sponge. People who really want a fast-acting compost pile turn over the compost with a garden fork regularly to help aerate it, but I don’t have the time or energy to do that.

In winter, most compost piles stop breaking down plant material because it is too cold for the organisms that cause decomposition. In summer, if yours is working well, temperatures can go up over 140 degrees F, which will kill weed seeds. In fact I’ve done experiments and found that 125 degrees for a couple of days killed the seeds of the annual grass I placed in it — though some weeds may be tougher to kill than that. To get my compost pile that hot I layered in fresh lawn clippings. Still, the pile had cooler pockets and hotter ones.

So how does all this help you in winter? First, accept that your kitchen scraps will be frozen and not breaking down. Even those big plastic drums that rotate compost probably won’t work in winter — the material will be one big lump impossible to turn.

I used to keep my compost pile near the vegetable garden so I could throw weeds in it. But the problem was that in winter I needed boots or snowshoes to get to my compost pile. If you don’t want to build a bin or trudge to a distant compost pile in winter, think about just using a big trash can and saving all your scraps until spring when things thaw out and temperatures are good for composting. This will also keep dogs and skunks out of it. Recently I built a nice bin made of wood pallets that is next to my woodpile, near the house — and more accessible all year.

Not all compost is the same. The microbes attracted to material made from woody plants are different from the ones attracted to kitchen scraps and grass clippings. Think about the soil in an established forest: It is dark and rich, formed by the breakdown of leaves, twigs and branches over a long period of time. You can mimic that and speed up the process to create mulch or compost to put around newly planted trees and shrubs. Just compost your autumn leaves, twigs and small branches. I shred them in a chipper-shredder machine.

If you collect scraps (no meat or oil) and are a member of a CSA, they may accept your kitchen scraps for their composting system. If you have a 5-gallon pail with cover, you can easily transport it to a farm or recycling facility that accepts food scraps. When we were on vacation in Maine, we brought our kitchen scraps to a farm that used them for compost.

Aside from helping your plants, making compost helps keep food waste out of the landfill, which is important: We are running out of space in landfills. So do your part, even in winter. And whatever you make will enhance your soil when you add it in at planting time.

Featured photo: I keep chopped leaves in a barrel next to my compost pile to spread over kitchen scraps. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

A holiday memorial

Volunteers honor deceased veterans with Wreaths Across America

By Katelyn Sahagian

Volunteers across southern New Hampshire are taking time a week before Christmas to remember those who have served this country with a symbolic laying of wreaths.

Wreaths Across America, the organization that lays wreaths at the graves of fallen soldiers and veterans, is holding its annual ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 17. The organization joins volunteers in every state of America and in United States cemeteries abroad to show appreciation to those who have served in the armed forces.

“It’s a place to provide remembrance and teach young people about the past,” said Brian Riis, the current organizer for Concord’s Boston Hill Cemetery’s Wreaths Across America. “[Active military and veterans] sacrifice a lot for us.”

Riis has been running the Wreaths Across America at Boston Hill cemetery in Concord for more than a decade. While he was unable to serve in the military when he was younger, Riis said that his son is in the Air Force.

Wreaths in the program aren’t purchased; they’re donated. Wreaths can be sent to specific graves or cemeteries, or they can be put in a general fund that will be shipped out to cemeteries that haven’t met their goals.

Even if a cemetery has no wreaths donated to it, Riis said, there will be ceremonial wreaths provided by Wreaths Across America representing each branch of the military.

Riis said that he always donates a few wreaths just in case someone contacts him saying that they missed the donation deadline and they want a wreath at their loved one’s grave. He said that there’s at least one person from out of state who calls him every year to have one laid, and he’ll send them a photo of the grave with the wreath.

“They’re a person I’ve never met, but it means so much to them that this gets done,” Riis said.

Wreaths Across America instructs people to follow a small ritual when laying the wreaths. They ask for the name to be read, thank them, and to take a small moment of silence before putting the wreath at the grave.

Before wreaths are laid, there is a brief ceremony usually held in the cemetery. While it only lasts a half hour, Christina Madden, the organizer of Wreaths Across America in Hudson, said that it covers why this event matters, and she notes how heartwarming it is to her to see people gather and show respect at this time of year.

“It also honors the families of the veterans,” Madden said. “When you put the wreaths on the graves now, it’s like the missing chair at the table, it’s the family’s sacrifice.”

Madden and her husband both served in the Army. She said that this event has been a labor of love for the past three years, since she brought the event to Hudson in 2019. She started it when she became the head of her VFW.

When she first began, the biggest problem was finding out exactly how many veterans were buried in Hudson’s 10 cemeteries.

“We started out not really knowing exactly how many vets were buried,” Madden said. “We got help from town records and one of the folks who was a historian. Going to each headstone to figure out who was who.”

While Hudson’s ceremony will be in one spot, volunteers will be sent to eight of the town’s cemeteries to lay wreaths. Madden said that even though she has volunteers lined up to lay the wreaths at the cemeteries, she is welcoming people from anywhere to come to the ceremony.

“It’s very moving,” she said. “It’s a vital part of the day.”

Featured photo: VFW Department of NH Cmdr. Russ Norris placing wreath. Courtesy photo.

Holiday gifts for the gardener

Tools, books and other ideas for the grower in your life

By Henry Homeyer

First on my list for holiday gifts for the gardener is this: a subscription to this newspaper. Our local papers need subscribers in order to deliver to you the news you want but cannot get online. Yes, local news, gardening tips that fit your climate, obituaries and more. If your loved ones do not have subscriptions, think about giving one.

Next, since most of us really need very little, think about a donation to a nonprofit in your loved one’s honor. One of my favorites is a nonprofit that for decades has nurtured orphan bear cubs, the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, New Hampshire. The Center this year is nurturing and caring for more than 100 baby bears whose mothers have been killed by cars or hunters and who would otherwise not survive. The Center has more than 19 acres of fenced forest for the bears, and serves Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. You can donate to The Kilham Bear Center at PO Box 37, Lyme, NH 03768, or go online to Online there are photos and videos of the bears. Visiting is not possible, as they want the bears to have as little contact with humans as possible because their goal is to return all to the wild where they avoid humans.

Other nonprofits I like include The Native Plant Trust, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. As a supporter I get the Nature Conservancy magazine and I never cease to be amazed at all the good projects they initiate or support. And of course most states have nice nonprofits supporting public gardens and wildlife areas that need our support.

Along with new products I like, each year I have to mention a few old favorites. The CobraHead Weeder is a simple, well-made tool that virtually all gardeners love once they’ve tried it. Shaped like a curved steel finger, it will get under weeds or flowers to lift them from the earth. I use it for planting as well as weeding. It’s found at most garden centers or online at for about $30. They now have a version for smaller hands and a long-handled weeder as well.

Books are a great present. I usually mention author Michael Dirr, my favorite expert on trees and shrubs. All his books are well-researched, complete and opinionated. My favorite is his classic, the Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses.

Another classic is Barbara Damrosch’s The Garden Primer. This book is a good reference on almost anything a gardener would wish to know. And at under $20 in paperback, it is great value for an 800-page book. More reliable than many of the online experts, I dare say.

Lastly, a pair of books that work well together. First, Doug Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard. This explains in readable layman’s terms why what we select for our gardens impacts birds and pollinators.

A good companion to Tallamy’s books is Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States by Tony Dove and Ginger Woolridge. This book supplies all you need to know for selecting the right trees and shrubs for your land to support wildlife.

But on to other needs of gardeners. Consider a small electric chainsaw. They are safer, quieter and easier to start and to use than gas-powered ones. I have a DeWalt DCCS620 chainsaw that has a 20-volt battery and a 12-inch bar and weighs just 9 pounds. It’s great for cutting up downed branches, removing small trees and more. Available locally at $250 or less.

For gardeners who start seeds indoors each spring, there is an alternative to all those flimsy plastic six-packs. You can buy a metal soil blocker that you can use to make small cubes of a soil mix for your seeds. Available from Johnny’s Seeds or Gardener’s Supply, about $40.

Another great product for starting seedlings is electric heat mats. These sit under flats of seeds planted indoors, providing heat that speeds up the germination process. They are available in two sizes — enough for one flat or a big one for four or more flats. Great for things that take a long time to germinate.

For stocking stuffers I like seed packets. Give your loved ones seeds of less common vegetables and flowers that they might not find at the plant nursery. Garden gloves are great gifts, we all use them in spring and fall, and some people use them all summer, too.

Lastly, my wife, Cindy, swears by a natural bug repellent made in New Hampshire, White Mountain Deet-Free Insect Repellent ( It doesn’t take much of this stuff to keep away black flies, she says. It comes in a 4-ounce bottle of all-natural ingredients (no fillers) for $15 plus shipping. Great stocking stuffer.

Use your imagination. There are so many nice things a gardener will appreciate, including your own time promised for weeding in the spring!

Featured photo: Consider a donation to a good nonprofit like the Kilham Bear Center. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Kiddie Pool 22/12/08

Family fun for the weekend

The big guy

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s Santa Claus in a helicopter: Santa Claus will helicopter in to the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire (27 Navigator Road in Londonderry;, 669-4820) on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 11 a.m. Plan to get to the museum by 10:45 a.m. to park and see the landing, according to a press release. Santa will talk to kids (who will receive goodie bags) until 1 p.m., when he will depart by fire truck, the release said. The museum will be open and free to visitors on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The museum’s holiday exhibit, “Holiday Festival of Toy Planes and Model Aircraft,” which features more than 2,000 aviation-related toys, games and other items, will also open on Dec. 10. The exhibit will feature a “12 Planes of Christmas” scavenger hunt, the release said. The museum is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission costs $10 for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 6 to 12, and is free for ages 5 and under, seniors and veterans/active military.

Find more places where kids can talk to Santa and enjoy other holiday amusements in our Holiday Guide issue (Nov. 24); the e-edition is available at (toward the bottom of the homepage). This weekend you can also find the big guy at breakfast at the Milford Town Hall (1 Union Sq.) on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Breakfast will be pancakes and sausages. Price is $9 per person; children ages 2 and younger eat free. Visit and to reserve a spot.

Relax while they play

• Leave your kids with the child care staff at the YMCA of Greater Londonderry (206 Rockingham Road in Londonderry) for Kids Night at the Y on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 3 to 8 p.m. The event, open to kids ages 4 to 12, will feature holiday-themed crafts and games for the kids as well as a pizza dinner, according to the YMCA. The program costs $45 for one child and $40 for each additional sibling. Visit to register in advance.


• Turning Pointe Center of Dance presents The Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 2 p.m. at the Concord City Auditorium (2 Prince St. in Concord). Tickets cost $20. Visit

• Dance Visions Network presents The Nutcracker Suite Acts I & II on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 12:30 and 5 p.m. at the Dana Center (Saint Anselm College, 100 Saint Anselm Drive, Manchester). Tickets cost $22 plus a $4 surcharge. Visit

Special screenings

• Chunky’s Cinema Pubs (707 Huse Road, Manchester; 151 Coliseum Ave., Nashua; 150 Bridge St., Pelham, chunkys. com) will screen The Polar Express (G, 2004) at all three locations Friday, Dec. 9, through Thursday, Dec. 15, with multiple daily screenings Friday through Sunday and one 5:30 p.m. screening Monday through Thursday. Kids get a golden ticket when entering the theater and there is a surprise during the hot chocolate scene, according to the website. On Friday, Dec. 9, the 4 p.m. screening is a sensory-friendly screening with house lights slightly brighter and the movie volume turned down, the website said.

Kiddie Pool 22/12/01

Family fun for the weekend

Book fun

• Toadstool Bookshop (Somerset Plaza, 375 Amherst St. in Nashua; 673-1734, will hold a party to celebrate the release of Dav Pilkey’s newest Cat Kid Comic Club book (which hit shelves on Nov. 29), Cat Kid Comic Club: Collaborations, on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 1 to 4 p.m. The afternoon will feature games, puzzles, goodies, raffles and more, according to the website.

Matt Forrest Esenwine will present a storytime featuring his new book Don’t Ask a Dinosaur at Gibson’s Bookstore (45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, on Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m.

Meet the big guy

In the Nov. 24 issue on page 20, we listed events where kids can get in a visit with the big guy. Find the e-edition at (toward the bottom of the home page). Here are a few of the opportunities to see Santa Claus this weekend.

• Have Breakfast with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 8 to 11:30 a.m. at the First Parish Congregational Church (United Church of Christ, 47 E. Derry Road in Derry; See the website for details about how to RSVP. TIckets at the door cost $10 for adults, $5 for 3 to 8 and free for ages 2 and under, the website said. Kids can take photos with Santa, enjoy games and crafts and more, the website said.

• Charmingfare Farm (774 High St. in Candia; will kick off its Santa’s Christmas on Saturday, Dec. 3, and Sunday, Dec. 4. The event also runs Friday, Dec. 9, through Sunday, Dec. 11; Friday, Dec. 16, through Sunday, Dec. 18; Wednesday, Dec. 21, through Saturday, Dec. 24. Pick a time when you buy tickets for either a four-person or 10-person sleigh ride. The event also includes a stop at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus’ Bakery, a visit to the barnyard, an opportunity to shop for Christmas trees, a campfire, and a special mailbox for letters to Santa.

• The Millyard Museum’s (200 Bedford St. in Manchester; will holt its holiday open house on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The day will feature games, cookies, children’s crafts, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus and more.

• Greeley Park (100 Concord St., Nashua) is hosting Santa in the Park on Saturday, Dec. 3, from noon to 2 p.m. Come take a photo with Santa. See Nashua Parks and Recreation Department’s Facebook page.

• Londonderry Access Center TV (281 Mammoth Road) is hosting Santa live on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 1 to 3 p.m. Kids can come visit with Santa live on air (first come, first serve). See

• The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire (6 Washington St. in Dover; is hosting its annual Jingle Bell Extravaganza on Sunday, Dec. 4, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and from 3 to 4:30 p.m. (also on Sunday, Dec. 11). Meet Santa, do holiday crafts, do a science experiment and get a special treat — and pajamas are encouraged.The event is included with the cost of admission, $15 for members, $20 for non-members; children under 1 year old are free. Reserve a spot online.

Holiday celebrations

• O’neil Cinemas at Brickyard Square (24 Calef Hwy. in Epping; 679-3529, will screen The Polar Express (G, 2004) Friday, Dec. 2, through Thursday, Dec. 8, with multiple screenings each day including one D-BOX screening (usually at 4:30 p.m.). Tickets, which are on sale now, cost $7 and include a bell while supplies last.

• Enjoy Mr. Aaron’s holiday party at the Bank of NH Stage (16 S. Main St., Concord) on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 11 a.m. Doors open at 10:30 a.m. and tickets cost $13. Visit to purchase tickets.

• Millyard Museum (200 Bedford St., Manchester) is hosting its annual American Girl Doll Christmas tea party on Saturday, Dec. 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Bring your American Girl Doll for a tour followed by refreshments and crafts. Tickets cost $15 per person and can be purchased at

Winter tree care

Pruning makes them pretty

Living in New England is a joy, but we gardeners do have some challenges: cold winter winds, deer, rocky soil and more. As we get ready for winter, one of the biggest challenges for many of us is the deer. They are hungry and relentless. In my part of the world, there was a crop failure for acorns this year, a staple for hungry deer. The deer don’t care that you spent $275 on a nice tree. If they want to browse it, they will, unless you take steps now to protect it.

The most expensive but most sure method to prevent deer from damaging your plants is to fence your entire property with 8-foot-tall deer fence. That will keep them from your flowers — tulips are a favorite — as well as vegetables, shrubs and trees. It’s what most arboretums do. You don’t need to have a metal fence — though metal posts are best — as plastic mesh deer fencing is readily available.

Alternatively, you can protect plants that have suffered damage in the past, or, if new, are known as “deer candy.” Yew is an evergreen favorite of deer. I recently wrapped a pair of yews with burlap for a client whose plants had suffered deer damage in the past. The plants stand 7 feet tall or so, and are about as wide. I used a 6-foot-wide roll of 10-ounce burlap to wrap the shrubs and four 8-foot-tall stakes for each plant. I left the top open to avoid breakage due to heavy snows. The burlap came from

Various repellent sprays may deter the deer, too. But if they wear off before you re-apply, the deer will let you know. Rain and warmer weather can affect how long they last.

young tree with wire mesh wrapped around base in snow
Hardware cloth will keep rodents from chewing the bark and killing this young cherry tree. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

Voles and other rodents can be a problem, too. Years when we have deep snow are the worst because owls and hawks are less able to eat the rodents that may eat the bark and girdle a tree. Wire mesh known as hardware cloth is great for keeping away rodents, but now plastic spiral wraps are available and easier to install. Young fruit trees are the most vulnerable, so do protect yours until they are 5 years old or so. Protection should go up 18 to 24 inches of the trunk.

What about those evergreen rhododendrons that have their leaves shrivel up? When the ground freezes, the roots can’t take up water to replace water used in photosynthesis on sunny days or water that just evaporates from the broad leaves. There is a product called Wilt-Pruf that works as an anti-transpirant for up to four months in winter. It is available in ready-to-use form or as a concentrate.

According to its literature, Wilt-Pruf “contains a film-forming polymer which offers high density, good efficacy, and even coverage across foliage.” Talking with a local arborist, I was advised to spray both top and bottom of leaves or needles, and to do so late in the fall. He also said it may also make foliage less attractive to deer. Shriveled leaves do recover, come spring.

If you planted new trees this year, think about mulching with bark mulch now if you haven’t done so. Trees do much of their root growth now, after leaf drop and before the ground freezes deeply. Trees have stored carbohydrates for use by roots even though they are no longer producing them.

By now I have about an inch of frozen soil on the surface, but roots are deeper than that — most are within a foot of the surface. So you can still put down 2 inches of mulch over the roots to slow the freezing of the soil.

Although traditionally farmers pruned their apple trees in late winter or early spring, I have always assumed that the reason for this is that they had time on their hands then. But if you want to do some pruning now, after the garden has gone to bed, feel free!

Begin pruning by removing any dead branches. This is a bit trickier now than when leaves are on the tree. Just look for cracked or damaged branches. Dead branches have bark that is a bit different than the rest: dry, flakey, lifeless. Rub small branches with a thumbnail. If you see green beneath the outer layer, the branch is alive. If there is no green, the branch is dead.

The goal of pruning is to allow every leaf to get sunshine. If the density of branches is too great, inner leaves will not do their job. Leaves have two major jobs: to feed sugars to their roots and to help produce flowers, fruit and seeds. If you prune back too much, a tree will respond by growing lots of new shoots, usually those vertical water sprouts. Don’t take off more than 20 percent of the tree in any one season.

Look for rubbing branches, branches growing toward the center of the tree or branches that parallel others closely. Those are all good candidates for removal. And any time a fruit tree is getting too tall, reduce the height. Finally, pruning should make your tree or shrub beautiful to look at — especially in winter.

Featured photo: Burlap will protect these yews from deer all winter. Photo by Henry Homeyer.

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