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Composting In The Winter – How To Keep Your Compost Pile Going Strong!

Is it really possible to keep composting efforts going all winter long? You bet it is! And it can make all the difference for having more than enough compost on hand for next year’s garden season.

how to compost in the winter
Although winter can certainly put a damper on composting efforts, it doesn’t have to stop them entirely. With a few simple tips you can keep a pile going longer than you might ever think.

Unfortunately, as fall turns to winter, many compost piles are left to fend for themselves in the cold and snow. In fact, many gardeners completely give up saving scraps and composting all together.

But it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be that way. Here is a look at a few simple keys to keep your composting efforts going all through the winter months.

How To Keep Composting In The Winter – The Simple Keys To Success

Keep Your Pile Working As Long As Possible

First and foremost, don’t give up on your compost pile too early. In fact, it’s surprising how long a compost pile will continue working with just a little extra care.

Decomposing of organic matter naturally generates heat. And that alone can keep the core of a compost pile active long after the thermometer begins to drop.

But beyond it’s natural heat generation, there are a few things you can do to help keep a compost pile going longer in the winter. And it all starts with providing a bit of insulation.

Whether it is a thick 6 to 12″ layer of straw, or a heavy coat of leaves or pine needles, placing a layer of organic insulation on top of your pile helps it to retain heat and moisture.

Not only will adding a layer of insulation help retain heat to the pile, it will also keep moisture in as well. And that moisture is critical to keeping your pile actively cooking.
Location, Location, Location.

In addition to insulating a pile, the winter location of your pile plays a huge role in it’s success too. Nothing will help heat up a pile more than sunlight. Even filtered sunlight on a cloudy day.

Piles or bins that are behind garages, fences or wall have a hard time finding the sun during daylight hours. And because of that, they are the first to cool down in the fall, and the last to warm up in the spring.

Not all compost piles or bins can be moved of course, but if your pile can be moved to a warmer spot during the winter, it can help immensely. Locating the front of your bin to face a southern facing location is one of the best ways to help heat it naturally through the winter.

generating heat
Active compost piles can generate a lot of heat from their core. That heat can help to keep a compost pile active deep into the fall and winter.

Many avid gardeners will also move their compost piles directly into the garden for the winter months to take advantage of solar warming.

Turning Your Pile / Adding Materials

And last but not least, continue to turn your pile for as long as ol’ man winter allows. By turning the pile a few times a week, and continuing to add kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, etc. – you add both oxygen and fuel to the mix.

If left to be, a compost pile in the winter will begin to freeze much faster from the outside in. The cold materials at the edge of the pile simply can’t get enough heat to compete with the air temperature.

composting in the winter
Unlike in the summer months (above) when scraps can just be thrown on top of the pile, winter compost materials should be placed into the center of the pile. This helps add instant fuel and oxygen to the core.

But by turning and adding scraps to the middle, you help keep the heat distributed for as long as possible. And don’t underestimate the “adding of scraps to the middle” part.

In the summer months, most gardeners simply throw their scraps on top of the pile. But in the winter, each time you add, dig the scraps into the middle of the pile.

By doing this, you allow the fresh green material a better chance to heat up. It also adds much needed oxygen to the core. As a bonus, digging fresh materials in through the winter also keeps your pile from being invaded by animals looking for an easy meal!

Saving Compost Materials All Winter Long –

At some point, with enough cold, frigid weather, a compost pile will finally freeze. Even if you insulate and locate it in the warmest spot of your yard. But that doesn’t mean you need to stop your composting efforts.

One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make is to stop saving compost materials through the coldest part of the winter months. Although you may have a frozen pile, you can easily save them for when it warms back up.

In the winter, we keep a few 5 gallon buckets with sealed lids tucked away just outside of our back door. As the snow and cold flies, we fill the buckets with scraps until a bit of warm weather allows pile access once again.

winter compost bin
There are all kind of options for keeping compost materials through the winter. Whether you use a simple 5 gallon bucket, or a fancier compost container like this – the important thing is to save them!

It beats trying to find our way to a frozen pile. And, there is zero worry of odor, as the cold acts a giant deep freeze. If you want something nicer than the 5 gallon bucket option, there are even some really nice Compost Buckets perfect for storing materials through the cold of winter.

Here is to keeping your compost pile and your composting efforts going all through the winter. And you aren’t composting yet, what are you waiting for? Wintertime is the perfect time to build your own bins and get started! (See : How To Build Your Own Compost Bins With Ease)

Come next growing season, your vegetable and flower plants will reap the benefits for sure! Happy Composting – Jim and Mary.

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