Keeping your own compost going in the winter seems, at first glance, almost impossible when temperatures are below freezing. Many gardeners simply stop everything during the winter months and wait for the warm weather to return. But that doesn’t have to be the case, and your compost pile can be managed late into the winter months with the right steps. You can also easily save and store extra ingredients to make your own soil nutrients better than ever next spring. Here is some useful information and gardening tips that can help you get the job done.
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How to take care of compost in winter?
Winter composting is like summer composting, but in slow motion. In the coldest weather, the process simply stalls and food scraps freeze . When temperatures rise above freezing, the process continues. If winter temperatures persist for a long time, the amount of food scraps is considerable and it is definitely worth saving. In addition, a healthy compost pile requires proper care throughout the period. However, the decomposition process slows down in compost in winter, when temperatures drop. The bacteria it contains can still survive, but they need energy to do their job. Winter compost, therefore, requires a little preparation, but is a manageable activity for most gardeners.
First and foremost, don’t give up on your compost pile too soon. In fact, it’s surprising how long it can keep going with just a little extra care. As organic material decomposes, it naturally generates heat. And that alone can keep the core of a compost pile active long after the thermometer drops below freezing. Beyond a pile’s natural heat generation, however, there are a few steps you can take to make your pile work harder and longer. It all starts with a layer of extra insulation in the form of mulch over the compost pile .
Prepare compost bin or pile for the winter season
It’s best to empty your compost bins of all usable material before winter sets in. You can use the compost in your garden , fill raised beds with it, or transfer to a dry container with a lid for use in the spring. Harvesting the compost before you build your winter compost pile will free up space for the new compost. When doing this, it is important to keep the bin warm if you live in an area that experiences low winter temperatures and high winds. Stack straw or hay bales around your garbage can or packed leaf bags. This will ensure that all the beneficial creatures in the compost stay warm throughout the winter.
Insulate the compost pile and keep it warm from the cold.
Just as you keep your home warm , a thick layer of insulation goes a long way to insulate it. This can also be done with a compost pile by simply adding a thicker layer of straw or shredded grass clippings on top. Such a pile will keep the compost from freezing for weeks, if not months, in the winter. To make this insulation even better, you can cover the straw layer with a heavy-duty black tarp. The plastic tarp will keep snow, ice and rain from saturating a winter pile. It also prevents moisture in the pile from drying out too quickly.
So why a black tarp? Because black absorbs heat, and whatever winter rays the sun is giving off, the black tarp will help heat up the pile underneath even more. Finally, make sure your pile is large enough to retain heat for as long as possible. A compost pile should also be large enough to generate enough heat for decomposition. A small pile simply won’t be able to insulate the heat generated to keep it from freezing, even on slightly warmer nights.
Finding the right location for compost in winter
In addition to insulating a compost pile, proper placement also plays a big role in maintaining it. Nothing helps heat up a pile more than sunlight, even filtered sunlight on a cloudy day. During the winter months, it’s also best to face your compost pile south. This allows the warming rays of the sun to best hit it. Piles or garbage cans behind garages, fences or a wall have a hard time finding the sun in daylight.
For this reason, they will be the first to cool down in the fall and even worse, the last to warm up in the spring. Of course, not all compost piles or garbage cans can be moved so easily. However, if you can move your compost to a warmer location during the winter, it can help immensely. Try orienting the front of your bin so that it faces south. This is one of the best ways to naturally beat the cold.
Tips for maintaining compost during the winter season.
To keep the process of composting going as long as possible during the winter, you need to feed and turn the contents. Without new materials to heat up your pile, heating performance will quickly slow down. So try to add as many fresh vegetable scraps, eggshells and coffee grounds as possible. If you happen to have chickens or rabbits, their warm manure is also a great addition. All of this is considered “green stuff” in a compost pile and helps increase heat and decomposition. Also, chop kitchen scraps as finely as possible. The smaller the pieces are for compost in the winter, the faster they decompose and generate heat.
During the summer months, most gardeners simply toss their waste into the compost pile. In contrast, during the winter season, each time you add new material, dig deeper and place the scraps in the center of the pile. By doing this, you give the fresh green material a better chance to warm up. In addition, this also adds much needed oxygen to the core. As a bonus, digging fresh compost in the winter will also prevent your pile from being attacked by animals looking for an easy meal. Don’t forget to put the insulating layer and tarp back on afterward, though.
Turn the compost pile regularly and freeze compost.
Try to turn your pile as often as possible during the winter period. By doing this a few times each week and continuing to add kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, etc., you are adding both oxygen and fuel to the mix. Otherwise, a compost pile will begin to freeze from the outside in much more quickly during the winter. The cold materials at the edge of the pile simply can’t get enough heat to compete with the air temperature. Accordingly, by turning and adding scraps to the center, you help distribute the heat for as long as possible. One of the biggest mistakes gardeners make is to stop saving materials during the coldest part of the winter months. Although you may have a frozen pile, you can easily store it when the weather warms up again.
Keep a bucket with sealed lids right outside your back door. While there is snow and it is cold, you can fill this bucket with waste until some warm weather makes the pile accessible again. It’s better to find your way to a frozen pile, and you don’t have to worry about odors because the cold acts like a giant freezer. Whatever you do, don’t stop saving your coffee grounds and eggshells. They are two of the best ingredients ever and are also perfect for spring use. To save them, simply place them in a large freezer bag in your freezer and add the material as needed. For the eggshells, you can crush or powder them before adding them to save space.