Winter Composting Tips – Outdoors & Inside

Snow-covered winter compost heap

Keep your compost pile going strong during the winter months.

Composting is the magical process that turns kitchen scraps and yard waste into rich fertilizer. Okay, it’s not magic – it’s actually a scientific technique for controlling and enhancing the natural decomposition process. Composting usually takes place during spring and summer, but it’s possible to make the magic happen during winter, too.

Outdoor Composting in Winter

Everyone’s a little slower during winter, and the micro-organisms inside your compost pile are no exception. They won’t work as quickly when it’s cold, but don’t give them the whole winter off. With a few winter composting tips, you can keep your pile active and get a head start on spring.

Who knows winter composting better than an Alaska gardener? A composting guide from the University of Alaska Fairbanks explains that frigid temperatures can halt a compost pile’s progress. The microbes that create compost need liquid water to do their job. If the moisture in the compost pile freezes, the microbes take a winter vacation. Fortunately, these microbes generate their own heat – the key is holding on to that heat.

First, make sure your compost pile is pretty big. A small pile will lose heat more quickly, while a large one can hold it inside. The suggested minimum size is 1 cubic yard. Second, insulate your pile. Cornell University suggests stacking bales of straw or garbage bags full of leaves around the pile. Or you can get more elaborate, constructing cinder-block walls or building a wood compost box and insulating it with corrugated cardboard scraps. It seems counter-intuitive, but tightly packed snow can insulate, too. Don’t forget a lid or tarp over the top.

When you add material to the compost pile or bin, keep layering “greens” and “browns” like you do during the warmer months. This is especially important in winter, because in very cold temperatures, you may not want to turn your pile as that can release the heat you’re trying to maintain. The right mix of ingredients helps aerate the pile without turning. It also helps to chop up food scraps and shred yard waste into small pieces. This makes everything a little easier for the microbes.

Indoor Composter that uses the Bokashi process

This kitchen composter uses the bokashi process.


Switching to Indoor Composting

If you don’t relish the idea of carrying kitchen scraps out into your freezing backyard, you can bring the composting inside. Countertop kitchen composters use the Japanese process called bokashi composting. Add kitchen scraps and an Effective Microorganism mix to the airtight container, and after a few weeks, everything will break down without unpleasant odors.

It’s also possible to set up indoor worm composting. Also called vermicomposting, this process has a learning curve, since the worms need the right balance of moisture and food to stay healthy and productive. But once you get the hang of it, the worms will happily do their job in a bin that fits under your sink. Building your own worm compost bin is a fun afternoon project, and you can collect worms from your garden or order them online.

Which winter composting option best suits your garden? Get your compost heap ready for snow and ice, or bring it inside for more convenient composting. When spring arrives, you’ll be ready to go.

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