Winter Composting: 5 Tips To Keep Your Compost Pile Active In Cold Weather
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The site of steam rising from your compost pile in the winter is enough to make any gardener smile. While compost is fairly easy to make it needs a little extra care in the winter and the extra work is so worth it for your garden. It’s well worth it because keeping your compost pile going in the winter will make sure you have enough available for seed starting and potting mix in the spring.
Can you make compost in the winter?
That’s a question I’m asked a lot by new gardeners. The answer is yes! You definitely can maintain or start a new compost pile in the winter time. It’s all about building the right layers in your compost pile and keeping it insulated from the cold weather.
Your compost pile is alive with microorganisms like fungi and mold that work hard to break down the waste that you’ve added. It’s the chemical process of these microorganisms that create the heat in your compost pile.
As the weather gets colder these microbes metabolism slows down and if you don’t mind waiting longer to have a finished compost pile that's ok. If you would like to keep your compost pile working over the winter there are a few steps you can take to help the microbes along.
Tips For Winter Composting
1. Feeding You Compost Pile In The Winter
If you want to keep your compost pile cooking along in cold weather it’s important to feed it well. You need to keep a good balance of green and brown items in the pile.
The “green” items in a compost pile are things that are high in nitrogen. These are things like your kitchen scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, house plant trimmings, coffee grounds, tea bags, hair from your haircuts.
Manure is also high in nitrogen so if you raise rabbits or chickens you can add their manure to your compost pile to boost the nitrogen levels.
The “brown” in a compost pile are things that are high in carbon. This includes straw, hay, wood shavings or chips, dried leaves, and shredded newspaper.
2. Compost Small Pieces
To speed up the composting process it’s helpful to add small items to the compost pile. If your adding kitchen scraps chop them up fine before adding or blend them up in your food processor first. For the brown ingredients like leaves and newspaper, they will compost much faster if you shredded them before adding them to your pile.
3. Layer Your Compost Pile
In cold weather, your compost pile will do better if you layer the green and brown items. Save up your kitchen scraps in a container and add them to the compost pile once a week. Then top them with a layer of shredded leaves, straw or newspaper.
Layering your pile will help to ensure that the microbes are being fed a balanced diet and help to trap the gases and heat in the pile.
4. Keep The Compost Moist
You want your compost pile to be moist but not soggy wet. If your compost pile is inside of a container or tarp covered it will be difficult for it to stay moist in the winter. When you get warmer days add a little water to it to help.
5. Insulate Your Compost
One of the best ways to keep your compost pile going in the winter is to keep it well insulated. It helps to keep the pile warm and hold the moisture in. You can buy insulated compost bins or simply add bales of straw around the outside of your pile.
More ideas for insulating your compost pile:
- Place bags of leaves around your compost bins. Learn more about making leaf mold.
- Tarp the compost pile. This will help to hold in moisture and some heat. Just be sure to water your pile in warmer weather because trapping prevents snow from building up and melting into the pile.
- Snow cover, yes it’s as simple as it sounds. If you live where you receive a lot of snow it provides a good cover. Snow is a natural insulator and as it melts it also adds moisture to your compost pile. Snow can prevent your compost from thawing quickly though so clear it off before adding a new layer.
But overall just relax and don’t worry about how your compost is doing in the winter. If you don’t have enough materials to keep your pile hot during the winter just keep adding what you have to the top of the pile. In the spring when the weather warms up, the compost pile will naturally start heating up again.