If you think you can’t compost in the cold weather, think again. There are still ways you can maintain a compost pile even through the winter so that by the next planting season, you have plentiful amounts of beautiful black gold with which to nourish your Spring plants.
The success of a compost pile depends highly on the aerobic bacteria that break down waste. During winter, these microbes slow down because of the cooler temperature but they can still be active.
The center part of the pile is also the center of activity – it still heats up and decomposition still happens but not so in the outer layers which are at the mercy of temperature highs and lows. Therefore what you need to do is help the aerobic bacteria in the compost pile so they can do their job.
For some gardeners, the obvious solution to winter composting is to do it indoors using compost bins or worms in a method called vermicomposting.
However, for those who prefer to compost outdoors especially those dealing with large quantities of waste materials that can’t be handled by a typical indoor system, here are some tips to succeed in making compost despite the cold weather.
Build a roof over your pile.
This is one of the simplest ways to protect your compost pile and keep external environmental factors from slowing down the operation. A roof will help keep the pile dry in case of unwanted precipitation.
Lay down a tarp.
If building a roof over your pile is not an option, then simply putting a tarp over it can keep precipitation away as well as contain internal heat. Heat is necessary because it hastens the decomposition process. A hot pile means that the microbes are really at it, working fast to produce nice, dark compost.
Build a barrier around your pile.
Blocking in your compost pile also helps protect it from frost. Of course this is not necessary if you already have your compost pile in some type of holding unit.
Make your heap bigger.
The University of Illinois Extension said that making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season. Also, the bigger the heap, the hotter it will be, so the faster the decomposition process. Make your compost heaps at least one cubic yard especially if you’re in the Midwest where it can get pretty cold.
Compost in a hole or trench.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggests burying your compost. You can dig a trench in your garden and add organic wastes like kitchen scraps as you go. Every time you add something, make sure you bury the waste. You can learn more about trench composting in this post.
Alternatively, you can use the dig-and-drop composting method in winter. What you do is:
1. dig a hole up to a foot deep and as wide as you want it
2. drop compostable materials into the hole
3. replace the soil and you are done
To make this method work better, collect your food scraps and other organic material in a bucket or other container. When you have enough, bury the pile in your yard. The organic matter breaks down right in your garden, enriching the soil and activating the microbes that live in it.
Shred your organic wastes.
Shredding the materials you add in your compost will allow the pile to heat more uniformly and insulate it from outside temperature extremes, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
Before you add materials to your pile, shred them or cut them up to less than two inches in size.
Consider what type of system works best for you. Will you get better results if you compost indoors in a bin or outdoors? Consider also other factors that can affect your composting like available area, climate, the amount of materials you compost and your commitment to composting.