Winter Composting! Is it Possible?
Absolutely! Composting in the winter is much like composting in the summer, but the process works in slow motion, and you'll be wearing a coat!
Be sure to keep your bins or compost piles well covered to prevent rain or snow from hitting them directly. Some components, like food scraps, will freeze, but when temperatures rise, the process resumes. As spring arrives, you'll be ahead of the game as the black gold in the compost bin will start to cook naturally on its own as temperatures rise!
The Learning Fields is so excited about composting that our composting area is our Compost Demonstration Garden. Notice that we use open-air bins to keep heaps visible, organized, and easily accessible. We rotate the left and right contents into the middle READY collection.
What is composting?
Composting is a method for treating organic waste gathered from the garden, yard, kitchen, around the house, or barns so that microorganisms break it down in the presence of oxygen to a point where it can be safely stored, handled, and applied to the environment.
When we compost, we reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and encourage beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. This compost further enriches your garden by helping retain moisture and suppressing plant disease and pests.
Another unintended, or possibly and hopefully intended, result of composting is that your outdoor space is providing a more friendly habitat for butterflies, bees, moths, and all our necessary and compromised pollinators.
Easy tips for wintertime composting!
Use the compost you already have. Before cold weather sets in, use your finished compost to make room for new additions to the mix over the winter. Cozy up shrubs with compost around the base spread compost over the lawn, use this compost in your flower garden. Don't forget your houseplants. Crumble your compost for these smaller containers and forget the chemical dressing!
Begin rebuilding with a layer of leaves or with straw, cardboard, or sawdust. Put the active part in the middle, and then cover it with more brown matter, including any dry plant waste (leaves!) that is fibrous and hard. This carbon-rich material insulates the active compost and helps keep the microbes in the compost warm and busy!
Balance the carbon with nitrogen! The green matter, which is full of nitrogen, will generally come from your kitchen during the winter. Use this much-needed ingredient, even though it can become a balancing act. Slightly more (brown) carbon is needed now to balance the (green) nitrogen, but don't get carried away with dumping bag fulls of leaves into your compost bin. Way too much! Store fall leaves in bags and then add to compost sensibly. Just a little more brown than green!
Monitor the moisture and cold! Keep your bins or compost piles well covered to prevent rain or snow from hitting them directly. If too much moisture builds up, uncover and aerate with a shovel or pitchfork. Putting some of the bagged up leaves over your compost covering can be sufficient insulation if the winter takes a turn for the worse.
Don't go overboard and overwinter! Every time you add kitchen scraps or twigs, remember that you need to uncover portions of your compost. Don't make it difficult on yourself or your compost. Compost is alive and needs your attention. Even covered, compost can get too wet by soaking up ground moisture, which will slow the composting process. Don't forget about the wildlife! Pesky raccoons, rodents, and domestic pets can and will burrow into the pile, searching for anything edible among your latest contributions. They can also just about scare you to death!
What not to compost and why.
At any given time, there are probably a hundred things in and around your home to compost, so I'm going to go the other direction with some serious what NOT to compost items (straight from our EPA):
Black walnut tree leaves or twigs - Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
Coal or charcoal ash - Might contain substances harmful to plants
Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs (shells are ok) - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Diseased or insect-ridden plants - Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
Fats, grease, lard, or oils - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Meat or fish bones and scraps - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Pet or human wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter, disposable diapers, etc.) - Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides - Might kill beneficial composting organisms
Thank you for your time!
Hope you enjoyed this article, and are ready to use some of your cold-weather energy to have perfect compost ready for your spring gardening.
If you haven't visited The Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, any season is a good season and our Demonstration Gardens are Winter Wonderful!
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