Composting offers dozens of benefits for gardeners, and chances are you don’t want to stop because the temperatures dropped.
The good news is that you don’t need to stop composting in the winter.
While the decomposition process does slow down, all you need to know is some simple tips to continue the process.
Winter composting does require work on your end, so be prepared to head outside often.
The work is worth it!
Keeping your compost pile working all year means you can produce fertilizer for the upcoming spring season. If you have a greenhouse, a compost bin could even be a small source of heat!
Ready to get started?
The key is preparation, so let’s take a look.
Preparing Your Bin for Winter
The first step is to prepare your compost for winter.
Most gardeners empty their bins before the start of winter. Don’t let all of that compost inside of the bin go to waste! Spread it over your garden beds and work it in.
You can just throw it over a garden bed, or store the compost in a dry container. Now, your bin is empty and ready for winter compost.
Another great tip is to gather up dried leaves ahead of time.
Brown materials are essential for a healthy compost pile, but that can be hard with snow covered ground.
I like to gather all of my leaves ahead of time and keep them in a dry location, allowing me to add them over the winter when layering or soaking up excess moisture.
Now that your bin is empty, it is time to get the winter compost started. Start to rebuild the layers of brown and green materials.
Add straw, leaves, cardboard, or other brown materials first.
Then, add in green materials such as grass clippings. Put more brown materials over the top, and your new compost pile is working.
Warmer and Dry Location
One of the most important tips is that you will need to keep the bin warmer, if possible if you live in an area with freezing temperatures and wind.
The microbes in the compost need warmth to stay active.
You don’t want a compost pile out in the middle of the open. There are several methods for keeping your bin warmer.
- Pile straw or hay around your bin.
- During fall, fill up leaf bags and use those for insulation around your bin (as well as a source of brown materials).
- Move the bin location to a spot on your property that receives direct sunlight each day. Avoid the shade!
- You can build a shelter around your compost bin for protection against wind, snow, and rain.
- Allow the snow to act as insulation as well. So long as the snow isn’t inside of your bin, you can heap snow around three of the four faces of your compost.
- The earth is a great insulator! You can dig a compost pit in the ground or into the side of a hill to protect portions of your compost!
As long as your compost stays above freezing, the microbes will continue to work.
Windbreaking is an essential step, no matter the method you pick. If your compost bin isn’t movable, you will need to build up a shelter around it.
Location is important when it comes to your pile!
A dry location is essential as well. Winter typically brings inches of snow and rain, which could mess up your compost pile.
If your compost bin is open, now is the time to add a lid. You could even just add a tarp on top or move it to a location that has shelter, such as a greenhouse or a carport.
Some moisture is essential for healthy compost, but you don’t want it seeping wet. That will reduce the temperature and decomposition.
Continue to Layer Materials
Throughout winter, you want to continue the same concept of layering brown and green materials. I always keep a bin on my kitchen counter and fill it with kitchen scraps so that I can make fewer trips out in the cold!
Add any fresh garden wastes, straw, newspapers, and leaves you can manage.
Despite your best work, there is a chance your winter compost will be too soggy due to snow and rain. If that seems to be occurring in your case, work on providing better coverage like mentioned above.
Also, add more brown materials.
Dried leaves are a good choice, but you might not have any available in the dead of winter. Straw and wood chips are good choices as well!
Properly Manage Your Winter Compost
If you’ve followed all the tips so far, your compost is probably looking pretty good so far! An enjoyable feature of winter composting is that you don’t have to turn the pile as much.
It’s totally acceptable to do a happy dance here.
Why don’t you have to turn the pile as often?
Frequent turning allows more heat to escape from your pile, which can lead to a slower decomposition process. You want to reduce turning as much as possible, allowing that internal temperature to build up.
This news is good for you!
Since you aren’t turning as often and the process is slower, you do need to pay attention to the size of the materials you add. Chop up your kitchen scraps smaller and shred leaves.
Smaller compost pieces are easier to decompose. It would be best to avoid things that take longer to decompose, such as corn cobs, in the winter.
Composting Through the winter
There is no reason to stop composting in the winter and waste all of that time! You need compost in the spring for the upcoming season, so get started now.
Start off by properly preparing for the season, including considering the location. Remember to ensure your pile stays dry and warm for best results.
Before you know it, spring will arrive, and you will have a pile of fresh compost waiting to be spread over your garden beds. It makes all of the effort worth it.
About the author
Tina Martino: Her passion is gardening. Along with her husband and children, each year they grow a garden large enough to provide their family of five with over half of our needed produce. Besides vegetables and a small berry patch, she also focuses her attention on beautifying their home with strategically placed flowers, herbs, and flowering plants. Gardening is more than just a hobby; it is a way of life.