Even though cold winter temperatures are still a few months away, I’ve been starting the process of wintering my compost pile. Didn’t think you could compost in the winter? You’re in for a surprise!
For a compost system to work, it needs a healthy mix of browns and greens, moisture, oxygen, heat, and an assortment of decomposers which will turn kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutrient rich compost. While it’s true that the cold naturally slows down the composting process, it is possible to keep a compost pile clipping along during the winter months. Here’s how I maintain a winter compost pile on my urban farm.
Empty the compost bin. Most of us have a probably have a compost bin that we use for kitchen waste and plant prunings. While these work well as long as the temperatures are above 50 degrees, they stop working once the temperatures turn frigid. In the fall, I empty all but one shovelful of compost from my composter bin. Half the material is spread over the vegetable beds. The other half becomes the first layer of a winter compost pile.
Start a pile of yard waste. Beginning in August, I start diverting all my green kitchen waste, animal bedding, and poultry manure into a pile in the corner of the yard. Once the leaves start to fall and the vegetables plants are killed by frost, these too are added to the pile.
Dig a pit. For winter composting, I switch to a pit composting system in which material is composted underground. The best place for a pit compost pile is in the vegetable garden once the plants have died back. Because I have a large yard with lots of foliage, my winter compost pile is 2 feet deep and measures 10ft x 20ft. Yours can be smaller of course. All the dirt removed from the pit should be set aside for layering.
Layering the organic material. By the end of October, I move my pile of yard waste into the pit. The first layer of waste in the pit is the straw and dead leaves, which is alternated with the green waste. Every 4 inches or so, I spread a one inch later of dirt over the mess and water it down before resuming. I also scatter the other half of the reserved compost into the pit to introduce healthy microbes and bugs to the heap.
Closing it up for the winter. Once the organic material is level with the ground, I pile on about 8 inches of soil to seal the pit. Since the pit will sink over the winter, the extra dirt on top ensures that the garden bed will be level in the spring. At this point, I walk away from the pit and ignore it until the following spring when the bed is tilled under in preparation for a new garden.
And what about the empty composter bin? Now that it’s empty, I have plenty of space in which to dump my vegetable parings, coffee grounds, green waste, poultry and rabbit manure this winter. By the time the composter is full in March or so, the weather outside has warmed sufficiently to start the composting cycle again.
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