Composting in Winter

Can you compost in winter? To be sure, the cold weather slows down the decomposition process in your compost pile, but microbial activity doesn’t stop entirely. If you follow a few simple guidelines, your composter can maintain a core of heat in which microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and actinomycetes can continue to do their work, and then be ready to rev up the pace when the warm weather returns. You can maintain the momentum you established when you started your composting the previous spring—and you can continue to divert food waste from the landfill during the winter months—by continuing to put your food waste into the composter during the colder months.

The following are a few tips gathered from around the internet on how to maintain your composting system through the winter.

  • Layering: During warm periods, you can just add ingredients to your compost pile as they become available. But in the cold season, take time to add layers of brown ingredients to your green materials. (Rodale’s Organic Life)
  • Carbon/nitrogen balance: The “brown”—usually in the form of leaves—can be hard to come by in winter, unless you plan ahead. Save a couple of bags of leaves from your fall raking. Keep the leaves in a dry place near the compost, to balance the green scraps that are added through the winter. (Eartheasy.com)
  • Moisture: Winter winds and low humidity can suck the moisture out of your compost pile. The microbes need moisture to survive. During warm spells, water the pile. Leave it damp, but not soaking. (Rodale’s Organic Life)
  • Fresh air: In warm weather, frequent turning is the best way to keep microbes well supplied with oxygen. But in winter, you want to cause as little disturbance as possible to the layer of insulation. Wait until spring to turn the pile. (Rodale’s Organic Life)
  • Lay down a tarp: Putting a tarp over your compost pile not only whisks away unwanted precipitation, but it also helps contain the internal heat from the pile where you want it – in the pile. (Earth911.com)
  • Make a bigger heap: Extend the longevity of your pile by prepping early. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “During [the] fall months, making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season.” Because volume is a factor in retaining compost pile heat, the U of I Extension suggests that for those in the Midwest, piles should be at least one cubic yard. The Midwest gets pretty cold, so it’s likely safe to say that this measurement suggestion can apply elsewhere in the U.S. (Earth911.com)
  • Shred it: According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, “Shredding the material in the pile to particles less than two inches in size will allow [the pile] to heat more uniformly and will insulate it from outside temperature extremes.” (Earth911.com)
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