As the snow flies and the temperatures drop, many gardeners don’t even think about composting. However, the truth is that with a little work composting your organics can be a “year-round” activity. So stop throwing away your organic food scraps, grab a pitch fork, and read on for some tips on winter composting!
Be Prepared for a Slow Down
You should expect the decomposition of your organic waste slow or even stop during the cold winter months. Compost by definition is the decomposition of organic “waste” as a result of the action of aerobic bacteria, fungi, and other organisms. As you can imagine like humans, the bacteria, fungi, and other organisms become very sluggish in the cold & snow.
Cold Composting: Keeping the Heat in
Since the cold winter weather slows decomposition, the real trick is to keep the heat in. If you’ve spent the warm months adding a good mix of organic material to your compost “pile”, & you’ve been turning that pile regularly then the digestion of the materials has generated a good amount of heat. That said, as the outside of the pile becomes snow covered and cold, the inside of the pile should stay relatively warm enough for decomposition to continue, although much slower.
There are effective ways to help keep heat in and/or contain more heat…
- Cover Your Existing Pile
If your compost is piled, an easy way to keep more heat in during the winter is to cover it with a tarp, polythene sheeting, or the like. Be sure to wrap the pile with a couple of layers, but be sure to leave some openings so the all-important oxygen can get to the pile. Also, cover your compost pile in such a way that you can easily add new material which will ultimately generate more heat, and compost! On a side note, covering the pile will also help to keep the pile a bit dryer. You want the pile to be moist but no soaking.
- Build Shelter for Your Compost
Building a barrier between your compost pile and the elements isn’t always possible, but it’s a great way to keep the heat in. Barriers can be built from just about anything, but recycled pallets can work great for this and most of the time they you can find them free! I use re-cycle the palettes to build a box, obviously leaving the top open so you can add material. However, covering the top of the pile inside the box with a tarp, etc…will only keep in more heat. Again, building shelter for your compost will also help to keep the pile a bit dryer. You want the pile to be moist but no soaking.
- Compost “Bins” or Worm Farm
If you are composting on a much smaller level or your worm composting (vermicomposting) then it can be much easier to keep the process going “hot”. When worm composting you’ll need to maintain temperatures of 60°F-80°F, so simply move the compost to a place where these temps can be maintained. The same goes for smaller more compact tumblers, pyramids, or bins, simply bring them in where warmer temperatures can be maintained.
- Dig a Hole or Trench
Obviously you’ll need to have the space or “spot” for a big hole or trench, but this can be a very effective way to compost in the cold. Dig a hole or trench to the size you want, and pile the soil nearby. Add your organic material just like you would in a typical pile, bin, etc…layering green & brown materials as you go. Cover the pile as you go, and when the hole is full cover it with a thin layer of soil, and let it cook! The organic material will slowly compost into the surrounding soil, creating fantastic mulch material.
As you can see, winter composting isn’t rocket science. It may take a bit more work, but if you’re dedicated to composting it’s definitely worth it!
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