Winter is well on its way, but that doesn’t mean you must stop composting. Here are some tips on how to keep your compost bin or pile from total winter dormancy, along with a few ideas for composting indoors.
You can insulate your compost pile. In milder climates, this may be as simple as keeping an extra-thick layer of shredded leaves on top of the pile. Home composters in cooler areas have insulated compost piles by stacking bales of hay or straw around the pile. Since many areas experienced a warmer autumn, properly-built piles with shredded leaves mixed with a good nitrogen source may have already started decomposing. Insulating the pile can keep the aerobes warm enough to continue and bring the pile closer to finished compost in the spring.
Some people find cold-weather success placing a dark-colored compost tumbler or barrel in a sunny spot, especially if there’s a good amount of finished compost already underway. Darker barrels soak up radiant heat, helping maintain the temperature inside. Barrel composters might also be moved into a warmer outbuilding – like an attached garage or barn where freezing is less likely.
Committed composters have even built their own winter compost bin for the barn or garage from a large plastic trash barrel, layering shredded leaves and kitchen wastes. You have to be sure to start the bottom of the bin with finished compost or compost starter, as well as drilling holes in the bin lid. This method can bring various results and may be messy, especially if a curious critter happens to get in and knock over the bin – a good reason to keep the lid extra secure! There are lots of free instructions and advice available online for this method.
The best cold weather composting method, we think, may be a well-planned worm bin. This requires a spot that stays above 45 degrees all winter, like a basement or four-season room. This process of “vermicomposting” uses red worms, which are remarkably efficient at eating up your kitchen wastes when they are kept well-fed and at the proper moisture.
There are plenty of free or low-cost resources available about how to make a simple vermicomposter for all seasons – even winter. We found a free, detailed resource from Oregon State University: