Winter Compost Options
Successful composting is a win-win process. You re-use your organic waste that would otherwise go in the garbage. Your garden will benefit from nutritious material leading to better results for your plants. You may even save some money on commercial composts and fertilizers. Winter composting can still be successful as the temperature drops and the weather turns wet or worse. You will need to keep that all important heat in your hot compost for the process to continue during the winter months, but cold composting can be another option, effectively managed in a trench or composting box.
This process is all about generating heat. Gather up brown and green compost material into piles, or boxes if you prefer, such as, annual garden weeds (before they have gone to seed), perennial garden weeds (excluding roots), lawn clippings (a little at a time), healthy old vegetables (excluding the stems), green hedge clippings, fruit and vegetable peelings, old compost, soil, and farmyard manure. You can also add some cardboard and wood ash but no meat of any kind or you will attract pests like rats and/or raccoons. Once you have collected sufficient material, mix them together into one pile creating alternating layers of green and brown material. Ensure that they are not too compacted, allowing plenty of aeration. You will need to turn your compost pile occasionally with a garden fork every week to ten days, especially a new heap where there are few or no worms. Turning will speed up the composting process. If you do not want to make your own compost pile, then you may consider several self-contained commercial solutions that are readily available.
Covering an existing heap
If your compost is piled, in moderate plant hardiness zones, an effective way to keep the heat in during the winter is to cover it with polythene sheeting. Do not go for thin polythene, but rather a slightly thicker material such as the type found in tarpaulins. Wrap the pile with a couple of layers but leave an opening at the top during the day and cover at night. Also bear in mind that if you have worms in your compost pile, then you will need to add compost regularly during the winter months, essentially feeding both it and the worms to maintain the composting process. Cover your compost pile in such a way that you are easily able get to the sides to add new material and cover up again.
If you are keeping an outside worm farming box, you will need to keep an eye on the temperature. Your worms should be happy within an approximate temperature range of 60 °F to 80 °F. Once the mercury begins to drop, move your worm box into an appropriate temperature zone such as a shed, garage, mud room, or basement; make sure your worms are not subject to vibrations and have plenty of air.
If you are happy with your hot compost pile and just want to leave it alone until the spring when it will restart its process on its own, then you may want to consider cold composting in a convenient spot during the winter. Digging a trench is a good way to get cold composting going, or you can simply use a plastic trash bin with a lid or other commercially available composting box.
In the fall choose an area that you are not going to plant and that you think would benefit from a compost boost. Dig a trench around one foot deep and keep the soil nearby. Add suitable organic material as and when you have enough to spread thinly over a small section of the bottom of the trench, cover with soil and move on to the end of the trench where you can start a new layer and so on. The organic material will slowly compost into the surrounding soil.
Cold composting in a box is very easy, and can be done year-round. Most commercially available options come in black plastic, which does help to create minimal heat, especially if the box is placed in a sunny location. They sometimes come with a screen that fits in the bottom allowing worms to come into the box from the ground, but still keep the compost contained. There are usually holes in the lid to allow in rainwater and air, and a door at the bottom.
Again, you'll want to keep a bin nearby with dry brown material. Most yard waste, old leaves and dry grass clippings, are perfect for this. As you add your vegetable kitchen scraps to the top of your compost box, follow it with a layer of dry brown material. Alternate the layers, but do not turn the compost in the box. Eventually, over time, worms and the natural process of decay will transform your scraps and dry material into compost. You can then open the door at the bottom of the box, and dig out the compost with a spade. This process takes much longer than hot composting, but takes much less effort.
Winter composting is not complicated but can be very rewarding in exchange for a little work and, as a bonus, keeps more of your garbage out of the landfill. What winter composting tips can you recommend? Let us know in the comments area below!