5 can't-miss tips for successful winter composting

November 3, 2015

Composting in below-freezing temperatures with snow on the ground can be challenging for even the most avid gardeners, but it's essential to ensure you'll be ready to feed the garden when the weather warms up in spring. Here are five can't-miss tips for successful cold-weather composting.

5 can't-miss tips for successful winter composting

[Image Credit: iStock.com/nixoncreative]

1. Layer compost in the winter

Winter's cold weather can easily slow the decomposition process in your compost pile. However, it's still feasible to keep the core of your pile warm despite frigid temperatures, indicating that crucial microbial activity is occurring.

Why is heat important?
Heat is a byproduct of microbial activity (i.e., the decomposition of organic material) in your compost pile.

  • It's also essential for allowing the process to continue, so you'll want to trap heat inside the core.

How can you "trap" heat?
Trapping heat in your compost pile is fairly simple.

  • Carefully layer plenty of "browns" (such as newspapers) in between any greens you add to the compost pile.

2. Keep compost moist in cold weather

Another key to successful winter composting is keeping your pile moist. The bacteria necessary to break down organic material thrive better under "wetter" conditions.

What if it's very cold and dry outside?
Cold, dry weather in winter isn't unusual. It will, however, take a toll on your compost pile. To offset this:

  • You could always spray the pile during warm spells, but if you have snowy weather all winter long you'll need a solution that won't mean having to check when it's freezing outside.

What do experts suggest?
Some experts recommend surrounding the compost with hay bales, bricks or wood and topping it off with a thick layer of soil.

  • The soil and other materials provide an insulating layer that will "lock" in moisture and keep winter winds out.

3. Size compost properly

Believe it or not, compost piles can be the "wrong size" and therefore not very efficient.

  • Smaller compost heaps take longer to compost because they don't have as much volume. The best compost is likely to be at the core, so it's smart to make the core as large as possible for more high-quality compost.
  • Although one metre (about three feet) is the usual minimum size for a compost pile, a two-metre (roughly six feet) wide mound is the smallest you should build to compost while in colder, winter climates.

4. Avoid turning compost

Although it may seem counter intuitive, don't turn compost in the winter time.

  • Disturbing the compost would release the built-up heat and expose the composting materials to cold air, which could dry out the moisture and stop the process.
  • Turning can be done in spring time.

5. Use a tarp for insulation

If you'll be adding layers to the compost frequently throughout the winter, use a plastic tarp as the insulation layer for the very top.

  • When adding to the pile simply fold back the tarp.
  • The other benefit of a tarp cover is it will prevent snow from falling onto the compost heap.
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