Composting is a great way to minimize your environmental footprint. Rather than sending your food waste off to the landfill, adding to the growing garbage problem, you can repurpose it by creating highly nutritious compost to support your garden.
While many people simply cover their compost pile for the winter season, you don’t have to put your composting efforts on pause. With a little work and preparation, you can make winter composting part of your regular routine. To help you get started, we have put together this easy-to-follow guide explaining the process of winter composting step by step.
What You Will Need
The supplies required to compost during the winter months will depend on the style of compost pile that you are working with. An outdoor compost pile that can’t be relocated will require more work and materials to insulate than a compost bin that can easily be moved to your insulated garage. Here is a list of all the supplies that you may need to carry out the steps below.
- Hay bales
- A utility tarp
- Rope or utility straps to secure your tarp
- Brown materials (fall leaves, paper, twigs, etc.)
- Compost activators (coffee grounds, grass clippings, blood meal, horse manure, etc.)
- Small bucket with a lid
Step One: Empty Finished Compost in Preparation
Before the first signs of winter hit, take the time to remove most of the finished compost from your composter. This can be used to prepare your garden beds for the coming winter season. Make sure, however, to leave a handful behind to mix in with your new waste. By introducing the microorganisms from your existing compost pile to your winter compost, you will give the composting process a head start. Removing the finished compost will ensure that you have plenty of room for all your compostable materials throughout the winter season.
Step Two: Reposition Your Composter
If you have a compost tumbler or bin that can easily be moved from one spot to another, be strategic with the placement during the colder winter months. Look around your property for a location that receives as much sunshine as possible while also offering some protection from the winter winds. This will help to keep your pile warm and prevent freezing, allowing it to continue working its magic despite the cold temperatures. If possible, move your composter into an enclosed porch, shed, or garage space.
If you have an outdoor compost pile that is unable to be moved, then you will need to find a way to insulate your compost and shelter it from the weather. One of the easiest insulation options is to build up walls around the compost pile using hay bales. Build the walls up high enough that you still have space to add composting material all winter. A tarp or old carpet can then be tied over the top to keep out any rain or snowfall. If possible, select a darker-colored tarp to help add some additional heat to the space. Be sure to secure your tarp in a way that you can still access the pile easily when adding your kitchen waste in the coming weeks.
Step Three: Add Additional Brown Materials
To create the ideal environment in your compost pile to encourage the decomposition process, you have likely been taught to keep the right balance of green materials and brown materials. Green materials provide high levels of nitrogen and protein, encouraging the microorganisms that break down your organic materials to grow and multiply. Some examples of green materials include grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, plant trimmings, and eggshells.
Meanwhile, the brown materials are rich in carbon and carbohydrates, bulking up your compost pile while providing a source of food for these much-needed microbes. Some examples of brown materials include pine needles, fall leaves, twigs, paper, and dryer lint.
By adding extra brown materials to your pile, you can bulk it up and reduce the moisture levels in the pile. This is important as any excess moisture will be more likely to freeze which will put an end to the decomposition process necessary to break down your organic matter. Materials like twigs also create air pockets within the pile which help to provide additional insulation.
Step Four: Add Compost Activators
When you notice the temperatures starting to drop and the cold weather moving in, it’s time to add some compost activators to your compost pile to kick start the hot composting process. Compost activators are high-nitrogen materials including coffee grounds, blood meal, bone meal, grass clippings, horse manure, and chicken droppings. These materials can be harder to come by during the winter months, so it’s always a good idea to keep extra on hand.
While you don’t want to include too many of these materials in your compost pile on a normal basis, the colder temperatures can cause your compost pile to struggle or be sluggish. Whenever you notice this happening, add a little more of the compost activators to encourage more activity once again.
Step Five: Adjust Your Composting Schedule
During the year, it’s not at all uncommon to bring your food scraps out to your compost bin after every meal. Doing this, however, is going to disturb your pile more frequently by allowing cold air in by opening your compost bin or pulling back your tarp covering. Instead, store a small bucket with a lid in your kitchen, emptying it into the compost bin once a week or whenever the bucket becomes too full.
In addition to changing how often you bring your waste to your winter compost pile during the colder months, we also recommend taking the time to cut your kitchen scraps up into smaller pieces. The microbial activity isn’t as active during these lower temperatures, making it take longer for the organisms in your winter compost pile. By cutting the scraps up, you make it easier to break these materials down which helps to keep your compost active.
Step Six: Avoid Turning Your Compost Pile
When summer composting, it is recommended to turn your compost pile regularly to mix everything up and improve the decomposition process. However, this can be disruptive to your compost during the winter. Each time you turn your compost, you are allowing the heat created by the breakdown of organic matter to escape. For this reason, most gardeners recommend holding off on turning your compost pile until the spring. If you do notice that your compost pile has too much moisture and is at risk of freezing, consider adding dry leaves or other brown materials. This will help to absorb the moisture.
Enjoy the Benefits of Winter Composting
If you have been avoiding composting during the colder months due to the barriers in winter composting, now is the perfect time to give it a try. The secret to success is to take steps to keep your compost warm, regardless of where it may be located, while feeding it with a compost activator, kitchen food scraps, and other compostable materials. Pay careful attention to the moisture content, carefully managing the amount of moisture in your pile to avoid freezing. It’s easier than most people realize.
Are you still unsure that the winter composting process is right for you? An easy alternative for winter composting is to instead move your efforts inside. Indoor composting involves the use of smaller compost bins and setups that are designed to remain indoors all year. This often relies on the vermicomposting process, including earthworms in your compost to play a role in the breakdown of the organic materials.
It may take a little work but maintaining an active compost pile throughout the winter months is a great way to provide your spring garden with healthy soil full of valuable nutrients!