How To Compost In The Winter

With the cooler weather here, it’s time to put the outdoor gardens to bed for another year. But what about the compost heap? Not so fast! Composting in the winter is possible, it’s just a slower process than it is in the summer.

It’s slower because the heap won’t ever be hot enough to get cooking. As temperatures drop, so does the microbial activity. But that doesn’t mean it stops altogether.

Meghan Midgley, a soil scientist at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, tells the Chicago Tribune that bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and more are all very much alive beneath the frozen food scraps. 

They keep working in the insulation of grass clippings, leaves, and vegetable peels at the bottom of the heap. If you dig through the pile on a cold day, you might even see steam rise! 

Of course, many of the food scraps added to a compost bin in the winter will freeze, bringing decomposition to a halt. 

But according to the Green Action Center, the freeze/thaw cycle will be helpful in the breakdown process of the organic material. As the days become warmer in the spring, the scraps will turn into compost even faster! 

Frozen food scraps also won’t attract animals to the bin.

Keep a pile of fallen leaves close by to add to your compost bin.

Here are a few things that will help you with your winter composting venture:

  • Harvest any compost you already have in the fall, so you start the winter with an empty bin. The only thing in there should be some leaves or other yard debris. 
  • Consider moving the bin closer to the house, so you’re not climbing snowbanks to get to it.
  • Think about insulating the bin with a tarp or large pieces of cardboard.
  • Keep a pile of fallen leaves or other brown material close by to add to the pile along with the kitchen waste.

Once the bin is ready for the winter, add food scraps and any brown materials freely. Do not mix the heap and do not add water, as that will only make things colder for the microbes inside.

Don’t let Jack Frost cramp your eco-friendly style! Composting in the winter is an excellent way to minimize your environmental impact and get a head start on soil amendments for the next gardening season

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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.