Most people don't think about all the waste leftover after a delicious feast with family or friends. Truthfully, though, much of what you have leftover ends up in a landfill, where it doesn't do your garden any favors! This year, make Thanksgiving a memorable day for your garden too by returning as many nutrients as you can back to the Earth and reducing food waste. Make it a new tradition to teach any young folks in your Thanksgiving gathering about how they can participate.

While one great way to incorporate your garden into Thanksgiving is to take canned or frozen veggies and fruits out for the meal, it's also great to look ahead to next year's garden, and the nutrients it will need.

Have a Plan

While it can be a daunting task to dive headlong into the labors of sorting waste, learning about decomposition, and how to find the best compost bin, this holiday feast is the perfect opportunity to experiment with being more conscious about waste.

Something as simple as hanging a couple of different trash bags during your meal prep or while you're clearing dishes can make the most off-putting chores of compost much more palatable. Most people detest the idea of rooting around garbage to pull a banana peel away from spoiled milk and who knows what else, but having a designated bag for meats and other items that rot and spoil, which won't be ideal for adding nutrients to your garden, and another trash bin for vegetables and organic materials makes it a snap. It can even make cleanup seem like a game for children or family members who want to help out in the kitchen.

Veggie Scraps to the Compost Heap

Food Scraps in a Compost Heap

Many folks divide the items they compost in a heap or in a compost barrel into "green" materials and "brown" materials. When you are done with your Thanksgiving feast, you have a lot of leftovers in the green category, even though they aren't all technically green: the husks from corn on the cob, the cobs themselves, stems and seeds removed from veggies, and fruit peels. Rather than having your team of Thanksgiving preparers throw all of this away, set a single bowl for adding all the scraps, and designate one person to take these veggies out to the compost heap. Alternatively, a lot of those odds and ends can be used to make great soup stocks or even a hearty broth if you save any parts of your turkey carcass.

Choose Compostable Paper Products and Tear Them Up

Assorted Paper Plates

Perhaps one of the most easily overlooked waste items are all the paper goods in your kitchen. While many of these items are recyclable you'd be surprised how many paperboard products head straight for the landfill that don't need to. If you make sure that you use napkins, plates, and even compostable disposable silverware at your big gatherings this Turkey Day, you can add them as part of the "brown" material in your compost heap. This cuts out steps like garbage trucks, recycling centers, and paper mills, and gives directly back to the Earth via your thriving yard.

They take longer to decompose if they don't have a lot of surface area exposed, so set as many people as possible to the task of shredding these items finely. Kids will have fun carefully making confetti of the old paper products, and your compost heap will have plenty of the wet and dry materials that make it function so well!

Evaluate Those Leftovers for Garden Chickens and Other Animals

Chicken Staring Right at You

Did the corn get passed on this season because those candied yams were so delicious? Did the rolls, so delicious, turn stale and crusty the next day? Leftover grain and bread can be great for your garden's chickens or other animals you raise if your garden incorporates livestock. While most meat and processed foods don't help much in the garden, many of the Thanksgiving staples are actually great for turning into "new animals" by feeding your garden's livestock.

More Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Leftovers in the Garden

Save eggshells, full of many valuable nutrients, for your compost heap.

When you have plastic jugs and plastic clamshells, figure out how you can turn them into watering jugs or new planters. Small jars and irregular containers can also be repurposed for keeping small hand tools together in your garden shed or for seed storage. No reason to buy new plastic planters when your food containers will do!

When you boil veggies, save the water until it is at room temperature and then use it to water your winter crops; they get the nutrients that have boiled off your veggies.

If you do some indoor gardening, you can save ugly bits of potato or other veggies that will grow back from just a piece of the root. Have your Thanksgiving guests who are fairly little participate in planting them and putting them by the windowsill to get sunlight.

Are you a seed saver? If you get organic, heirloom produce to serve your guests, pull those seeds out and let them dry for use in your garden next spring. They may not be as consistent as seeds from a packet have been for you, but you'll never know until you try to grow!

Make Black Friday the Day to Turn Your Compost!

Pitchfork Turning Compost

Know what's cheaper than the cheapest Black Friday deal? Entirely free, rich, wonderful compost! Once your compost heap has gotten a big influx of new material, make sure you take some time to mix it all in, where the brown material and the green material can interact and the bacteria can break down everything into soil. By Spring, you'll be glad that you gave thanks and saved some things from the trash. Long-term, composting is not only very sustainable and helpful for your garden, it also saves you a lot of effort and money in buying commercially produced compost in plastic bags and hauling it from the garden center to your garden.

With these strategies, your garden can be just feel just as stuffed as your table full of guests by the end of the holiday. It also doesn't hurt to get out and about in the garden a bit, walk off some of that sleep-inducing tryptophan from the turkey, and be grateful for the many homegrown goodies that will arrive with the next year's harvest.