Composting in the winter can be challenging. The effectiveness and speed of our compost piles decrease with the decrease in temperature. Your compost pile may even freeze solid and halt altogether during really harsh winters.
This is just OK, of course, as the compost will continue decomposing once the spring thaw occurs and microbial activity resumes.
But what if we wanted to maintain our piles throughout the winter? Is there anything we can do to lessen the unpleasant effects of the cold? There is, indeed. I’ve listed six things you can do in this article to get your compost ready for winter, so it may continue to function even after the rest of your garden has gone dormant.
A healthy compost is the correct ratio of Browns to Greens and air to water. These four things in Perfect Harmony are what allow the compost to do its thing at maximum efficiency. And the speed at which all of this happens is dictated by the temperature of the pile.
The microorganisms and bacteria that do all the heavy lifting in your compost to break down those raw materials are dependent on the temperature.
Amazingly these metabolic processes within your compost pile are able to generate their own heat. But for the most part, your compost pile is at the mercy of the weather outside.
This brings us to where we are today. I’m about a month away from True winter and I need to get my compost pile set up in time.
I need to get it ready for the coming cold so that it can stay working for me even if the rest of the garden has gone dormant.
Also, read What makes good compost [5 Key factors].
6 Important tips for winter composting
1. Compost size
The first way we can do that is by making sure our piles are the right size. The larger your pile is the more thermal Mass it’s going to have, ensuring a steadier state of both moisture and those temperatures.
Compost piles that are too small can easily run the risk of freezing solid all the way through. Which is perfectly fine.
The compost is going to thaw out and resume its regular processing in the spring but in this article, we’re talking about keeping our compost going all winter long, and to do that we gotta make sure that the pile is of adequate size. It’s got to be big enough to fend off old man winter.
2. Particle size
The second factor that’s going to help keep our compost going is the particle size of the raw materials itself.
Nearly all of the activity to break down the individual bits and pieces of our raw compost happens on the surface. Smaller-size inputs allow the pile to operate at a greater efficiency. Keeping it going at a faster rate even as the temperatures drop.
In the Glory Days of Summer large pieces are fine because the breakdown happens so fast anyways. In the winter though it could be the difference between the pile stopping or continuing on.
3. Bulk up for composting in winter
Another way to keep a compost humming along is bulk and this will do two things. Just like the fluffy insides of a winter jacket bulk in compost provides insulation.
It’s the same concept as the insulation in your ceiling or the walls of your house. The extra bulk provides air gaps and those air gaps provide insulation. But those air gaps also provide second thing oxygen.
Oxygen is very essential for the microbes in your compost to do their thing effectively. Maintaining these aerobic conditions is vital to the whole process and bulking up the pile is one of the best ways to do it.
Fortunately, the annual Leaf Drop happens at precisely the same time that we need to be doing this. It’s uncanny how mother nature always seems to get it right.
This fall leaf drop is going to provide us with all the materials that we need to accomplish this and it’s pretty simple. Just begin layering in those brown leaves as soon as they fall off the tree for the greatest effect.
4. Leave your compost alone
Moving on to number four and we have one that feels a little bit backward for you composting veterans and that’s not to turn your pile.
I know it seems counter-intuitive at all considering that aeration is so huge in composting but turning your Pile in the winter, well that exposes that warm inner core to the cold air surrounding it.
So if you want to grind all the microbial activity in your compost to a halt this winter well then by all means turn the pile.
5. Adequate moisture for composting in winter
At number five we have moisture. Having enough water in the system is vital to the whole process, too little and the microbial activity really slows.
Dry compost takes forever and a day to break itself down. However too wet and the compost is going to turn anaerobic in nature. Slowing down as well but also becoming a stinky soggy mess.
No question, winter is a tricky time for moisture control for our composts, especially in areas like mine where too much moisture is added daily.
So I’ll be battling too much moisture by adding more Browns and structured materials While others may be battling the bone-chilling cold and not enough moisture.
Finding that balance is so important to maintaining a well-oiled machine. But it’s especially important in the winter.
6. All systems go!
And lastly on that same thought as moisture is bringing it all together and making sure that all your parameters are in check. To keep your compost pile productive and active over winter it must be productive and active, to begin with.
Now if you’re unfamiliar with the term the CN or carbon to nitrogen ratio refers to the relative ratio of brown carbon sources, things such as wood, cardboard, straw, and dry leaves to your green nitrogen sources and those would be things like green grass, active kitchen waste and fresh pulled weeds.
Similarly, the right balance of moisture and air is also vital. Too much water is going to replace and fill in those air gaps in your soil profile and too little moisture is going to decrease that metabolic activity as we mentioned before.
If the compost is having trouble performing in the ideal conditions of spring and summer then the onslaught of winter is only going to exacerbate that and make it much worse.
So get the compost into a good spot before your winter hits and it’ll be able to power through those temperature drops much more successfully.
And hopefully doing that as well as the five other tips that we talked about in this article helps you keep your compost healthy and active this winter. Hey, best of luck guys, and thanks for reading. Happy gardening!