Tips for Composting in the Winter
Get the Most from Your Compost - Year Round!
There is certainly no shortage of reasons to compost. Taking waste from the yard or kitchen and turning it into rich fertilizer is a beautiful practice. You feed your garden, and your garden will feed you! Aside from this, recycling your kitchen and yard waste saves it from landfill - and we’re pretty big on that, here at Alabama Sawyer.
With that said, it might also be good for your health. Recently, the use of manure-based compost has been deemed questionable for use in food gardens. That’s because new strains of bacteria have evolved that have the potential to cause food-borne illnesses.
What may be reason enough to want to get your own compost pile started, but you will also be reducing your yard waste by up to three quarters. It feels good, it looks good, it is good.
But what about in the wintertime?
Composting uses aeration (air) to break down the organic waste and this energy can be felt in the form of heat. Of course, the often colder, wetter, or even snowier conditions of winter present some challenges here, but that doesn’t mean you should drop the idea and wait for spring. That wouldn’t be a great idea either - Why?
Well, if you are planning on using the compost yourself, you are probably going to want to use it in the springtime, when you plant your garden. Composting through the winter (and all year round) is ideal - so, below, we have some composting essentials, and a few tips and tricks to get you through until spring.
Let’s start with some composting basics, and a few things to think about for setting up your system.
The first thing to know is that composting is all about layers. There will be two main types of compost you are most likely to deal with - Green, and Brown, and there are a few things you should know about them.
This is going to come from your yard. Dried leaves, straw, plant debris - yard clippings. This is rich in nitrogen and is going to be broken down into two more groups: Fine and coarse.
Coarse green compost is the larger debris - twigs, branches, leaves - the kind of green waste that lets air get through. Fine green waste is anything that clumps - grass clippings are the perfect poster-child for fine green waste. By alternating between coarse and fine green waste, you are helping the aeration process to break your waste down more efficiently, but there’s still more to it.
This is the stuff that comes from the kitchen - your fruit peels, rinds, and cores. Vegetable skins and tea bags (with no stickers or staples, of course) all have to be collected together. This forms another important component that is useful for composting: Carbon.
The most practical way to collect your brown compost is in a sealed container that lives in the kitchen. The Noaway Compost Bin, which we make from urban wood, is a perfect way to accomplish this.
These handy bins can live right on top of the counter, and the variety of wooden exteriors are very pretty to look at. The thing about the Noaway Compost Bin is that it seals completely, so there is no odor at all while you collect your all-important brown compost.
There is also a petite version! So, whether you are composting out of your city apartment or your sprawling farm, you have an odorless, beautiful tool to assist your efforts and meet your needs. They come in a few tasteful oil finishes on magnolia and walnut, and aren’t just beautiful: they are fully functional.
In fact, by throwing all of your compostable kitchen scraps into the Noaway Compost Bin, you will actually be reducing the odor of your regular garbage as well.
The mixture of carbon and nitrogen-rich compost is essential to the efficiency and efficacy of the compost. You want a 50/50 mix and if you add this correctly, the pile should heat up, which brings us to the issue at hand:
Tips for Composting in the Winter
First, let’s talk about your setup. Composting is best done on bare soil, but if you live in an area that gets a lot of rain or snow, you may want to consider an alternative. Using a bin or roller bin is one way to ensure the moisture from the ground doesn’t interfere with your compost.
Alternatively, you can find the high ground, and let gravity do that work for you.
The next big challenge that is posed by winter is to the heat of the pile. You want your compost to be about 90 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If your compost can stay at this temperature, then you can be sure that it is decaying rapidly - which is what you want. There are a couple of ways to go about setting up compost that stays warm.
If there is a spot around your yard or property that drains and gets a lot of sun - that is an ideal spot for your compost pile or bin. Next, insulation is key.
Use straw, cardboard, and leaves around the outside and top to help keep the heat in and insulate the compost. You should also do your best to ensure that it is about three or four feet high on each side. This height will accommodate some self-insulation and keep your compost nice and hot.
Now, you can monitor the heat with a thermometer, and should it get cold, don’t panic. Add nitrogen-rich (green) compost and turn it, and you should be able to get that temperature back up to where you want it.
Another good trick in the winter is to add a handful of topsoil between each layer. This adds some microorganisms and also helps to keep the odor down. When adding layers they will be ideally 6 - 8 inches in thickness and start with a coarse green layer, then a fine green layer, a brown layer, and repeat.
In the winter, you will want to avoid putting in any twigs, branches, or wood that is over ¼ inch thick. You can still add it, but you should chip it first to give it a head start.
When things start to warm up for spring, so will your compost pile, and you should have some beautifully rich compost to supplement your garden and feed you and your family until the next fall.
Composting is a beautiful circle of life to take part in, for you, your family, and the environment, and you shouldn’t have to stop just because of a pesky little cold season. Well, now you don’t!