one green planet
one green planet

Winter may not be the most inviting time to grow gardens. Sure, there are cold frames and greenhouses and other methods for growing food when its freezing, but by and large, wintertime is ideal for getting geared up for spring fertility. One of the easier, more productive tasks we can do is saving the right kitchen scraps to boost our spring production.

While any kitchen food scraps can eventually reach the garden in the form of compost, an incredibly worthwhile endeavor for the home gardener and eco-warrior, there are certain items that warrant special items. These items could be separated out into their own containers and used individually to benefit the garden.

These aren’t just run-of-the-mill kitchen scraps. Some have special soil conditioning powers. Others are like vitamins for the plants, and even others might help with protecting plants from pests. For an enterprising repurpose-r, there are all sorts of valuable “products” that can be gleaned from the kitchen trash can.

Coffee Grounds

One of the most popular and well-regarded kitchen waste products for the garden is coffee grounds. For many of us, we produce these every day. They are easy to save (just stockpile them in a bucket), and the effort will pay off in dividends. Spent coffee grounds provide a bump of nitrogen to plants, and it also helps to condition the soil. Rather than breaking down as most nitrogen-rich items do, spent coffee grounds keep their form long-term and add texture.


Source: Karen and Brad Emerson/Flickr

Paper Towels (and Rolls)

Obviously, we’d want to avoid paper towels that have been used in conjunction with chemicals (and, for that matter, consider chemical-free cleaners), but all those paper towels to wipe up small spills or clean crumbs from a mouth, they are fair game. Shred them up and mix them into the top layer of garden soil to act as a substrate for organic materials to grow. Some people like to cut up the cardboard centers and put them around small seedlings to keep slugs at bay.

Banana Peels

Another very popular and respected spot of kitchen waste in the garden is the banana peel. During the spring and summer, old peels can just be tucked beneath some mulch in the garden to break down. In the winter, the peels can be left in an airy place to dry out. They can then be crushed, torn into bits, or pulverized and add to the soil later. They provide a boost of potassium and phosphorus amongst other nutrients. Some gardeners like to use them to make banana tea (steeping them in water) for a foliar feed.


The winter holidays often involve a platter of nuts that we slowly work through, cracking the occasional walnut or hazelnut for a (not so) quick and tasty snack. Rather than tossing all of the shells into the compost, it’s worth hanging on to them. They can be crushed under foot and mixed into the top layer of garden soil to keep it airier. The shells are great for improving soil lightness. For those that eat eggs, these shells can be saved for the same purposes.

Citrus Rinds

Like nuts, citrus fruits are definitely a thematically wintry treat. Luckily, all those oranges, mandarins, and clementines come rapped in natural packaging. Rather than tossing those rinds into the compost bin, it might pay to save a few (consider freezing them) to use for plant protection in the spring. Slugs love citrus rinds. So, they can be put in gardens to distract the slugs, and the gardener can humanely move them elsewhere in mass.


Source: Lucas Cobb/Shutterstock

Hot Pepper Parts

For those who love spicy food and find themselves dealing with hot pepper regularly, say making homemade hot sauces, the loose ends and seeds from this endeavor are worth hanging on to. These can be frozen for the time being, or they can be fermented into something particularly potent, and later mixed into the soil. They can also be used, along with garlic ends and skins, to create a natural pest-deterring spray.

Paper Products

Along with saving food scraps for the compost bin, everyone should be saving paper products that don’t have glossy covering. These could act as a carbon-rich element for compost bins. A big mistake many beginning composters make is adding only food scraps to the bin, which creates more of a sloppy mess than the black gold they seek. This is because the bulk of compost should really be carbon-rich materials rather than nitrogen-rich materials, like food scraps. Old newspapers, junk mail, boxes, and so on are perfect for this. Shred them and put a thick blanket of paper products over the food scraps each time you add them to the compost bin.

Winter may be upon us now and leaving little doubt, but spring is just around the corner. And, when that time comes, we’ll be happy to have saved this kitchen waste for garden goodies.