We all know just how good compost develops in the warmer months, and the heat and moisture only seem to do wonders for our growing pile. If you’re a gardener who lives somewhere winter takes its toll, you might fear for the health of your compost during these colder times.
Winter composting is a very real thing, and with careful practice and tips and tricks learned along the way gardeners have come up with ways to keep their compost thriving and healthy even when the temperatures drop. Even if you don’t have an established pile, it’s still possible to be starting a compost pile in winter, so don’t think you have to wait until it heats up.
We’ve rounded up some of the best tips to do with cold weather composting so that you can learn from those before you and keep your pile doing its best during winter. We have answered all of the questions about how to compost in the winter so you can put your time and energy back into doing what you love most.
The microbes in our compost need water to survive and when winter comes around it can suck all of the moisture from the air. The best way to tackle this problem when it gets cold is to wait for a warmer spell of weather and then slightly water your pile.
The key is to make it just damp but not soaking so that the microbes get the right amount of moisture. Without a bit of moisture, your pile will quickly dry up and die, so this is essential to monitor.
When you’re tending to your compost pile in winter and find that it’s turned into one solid icy block, there’s no need to panic. Some people might attempt to break up the ice or turn it over, but this can actually do more harm than good. The best approach is to leave your compost and wait for the weather to heat up again, as just a slight movement can do damage to the compost beneath.
Rather than adding your usual scraps to the compost pile, you need to be careful about what you put there in the colder months. Nitrogen-rich products are the best as it will help to feed the microbes when things get cold and can actually help to produce heat.
Think about using chicken manure, coffee grounds, houseplant trimmings, and shredded newspaper. Carbon is also helpful which can be found in shredded newspaper or fallen leaves.
When winter rolls around, you need to be more selective about the size of scraps you’re feeding to the compost pile. When it gets cold, there’s less chance that the waste will break up on its own and so you should put smaller particles in.
Microbes will be more sluggish when they’re cold, so do the hard work for them and shred the materials no bigger than two inches. Once it heats up again, feel free to add some size, but for now, it’s best to keep it small and easy.
Depending on where you keep your compost, you might need to add insulation to keep it thriving. One easy way to insulate is to add layers of brown materials to the pile in between the green stuff, but only if you’re going to do it carefully. This can help to keep it warmer and stop the compost from drying out in the cold conditions.
If you’ve finally decided you want to start a compost pile but are put off by the freezing conditions, there’s no need to worry. Even when the ground is still frozen solid there’s nothing stopping you from starting a compost pile that will thrive even more in warmer months and become useful for you and your garden. Many a successful compost piles have been started in winter, so long as you follow these steps:
Make a compost bin or select an area on the ground where you want to start a pile.
Gather all of the green materials you can find, as these contain nitrogen which helps feed the microbes. This includes yard waste, animal droppings from rabbits, goats, horses, green leaves, and more. Make a pile with them of at least three inches tall and three feet wide.
Next, you want to find all carbon materials to add as a layer on top. These are usually brown and can include straw, newspaper, hay, and dried leaves. If you want to add kitchen waste it’s best to do this in an enclosed container otherwise it might attract animals.
Use a garden fork or pole to mix up the layers you’ve made and allow some air to get in there. You can continue to add to it over time and use the tips above to keep it healthy.
A good composter knows that a lot of planning needs to go into growing a successful pile, and that’s especially true during winter. Whether you’re just starting a pile or trying to keep one alive, there’s no need to stress just because the temperature has started to drop.
Compost can, and will, survive in cold conditions, provided you take care and treat it the way it needs to be treated. Before you know it, the weather will start to heat up and your compost will become hearty and tough again, so there’s no need to panic when you feel the temperature drop.