Composting Year-round

Did you know that you can still compost in the winter? If you are already removing leaves and picking up fallen branches from your landscape and driveway to make your yard look nice, why not compost them. Nearly 30 percent of the waste homeowners throw in the garbage each year can be composted. After the holidays your Christmas tree can be composted as well. Just shred the limbs and add to your pile. You can toss your tree onto the compost pile but it might take ten months to decompose. 

Natural composting, or biological decomposition, occurs as vegetation falls to the ground. This material begins to slowly break down with the help of residents like bacteria, molds, and mites. As it decays, the natural compost provides minerals and nutrients needed for plants, animals, and microorganisms.

Although the decomposition process usually slows down in cooler weather, compost piles will keep working all year long. To prolong microbe activity over the winter, your compost pile will need warmth, organic material, air, and moisture.

Late fall preparations

Collect bags of dry leaves from your lawn and your neighbors. Stock pile excess dry leaves in large plastic garbage bags or covered garbage cans for use throughout the year. Harvest finished compost from your pile to make room for your winter additions.

Over the course of the winter continue layering brown and green organic materials to guarantee the right ratio of carbon to nitrogen. This will help aerate and provide adequate drainage in the pile. Dead garden plants, spent perennials, sod and fall leaves are excellent, abundant choices in autumn. Turning the pile in the winter is not necessary, since it may result in a loss of heat from the middle of the pile.

Insulating your bin will protect it form the harsh winter winds and cold. Feel free to pile on the overabundance of leaves and tuck in those kitchen scraps under the insulating layer. You can provide extra insulation by surrounding your bin with black bags of leaves or straw/hay bales or covering with a tarp.

To reduce trips to your bin on cold winter days, start a pre-compost bucket (you can use this method if you don’t have a yard). You can use a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid like a plastic cat food container or small trash can to place vegetable scraps, egg shells, saw dust, spent houseplants and small bits of paper. Don’t forget those coffee grinds as an excellent addition to your compost. Many coffee shops will now give you grounds if you call ahead and ask. Remember to add a little dirt layer to your indoor compost to prevent smells. You can add these materials to your outdoor bin whenever convenient or before your pre-compost bin gets too heavy.

Early spring maintenance

If your pile should freeze over the winter, it will return to active duty once thawed. Once it does, you will be happy that you took the time to layer your greens with browns. One common mistake is to pile all the winter’s kitchen scraps onto your pile without layering or mixing in browns. All-greens piles are almost always stinky! If your pile is excessively wet due to the spring thaw, turn it and add more browns to soak up this moisture.

Do not compost the following materials:

  • meat or fish scraps or bones
  • dairy products
  • peanut butter
  • cooking oil or animal fats
  • diseased plants
  • manure of meat-eating mammals (dogs, cats)
  • plywood scraps or pressure-treated lumber
  • anything that does not biodegrade (plastics, synthetic fibers)

These products can attract pests, cause foul odors, or contaminate the compost. To avoid attracting flies, bury food scraps under a foot of existing compost in the pile, or cover food scraps with a layer of straw, leaves or sawdust.