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Seasonal Composting Guide: Winter 5

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Composting can be done year round! Here’s how to start a pile in the winter.

Creating your compost at home is a great way to reuse items from the yard and kitchen as well as design a nearby energy source for gardening. Finished compost is rich in nutrients and can go a long way in reducing greenhouse gases.

Starting a compost pile during the winter is a great way to get a head start on the busy Spring planting season and will give your compost pile time to age.

NOTE: How long it takes for your pile to begin to decompose will all depend on your home’s specific location. Those in warmer climates will see a quicker start to the decaying process thanks to warmer winter temperatures. More northern residents will be battling cold weather, ice, and possibly snow on their compost pile, when starting in the winter. Compost piles that are started in colder winter climates won’t have the opportunity to get warm and begin to decay until warmer spring weather arrives. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get started and have a place to put food scraps and other compostables throughout the winter!

Use these tips to start a compost pile during the winter months.

1. Create A Space

Compost piles are great to have in the backyard and should be in an area that is easy to access. Many homeowners choose to create a compost pile in a tucked away spot in the yard that can be undisturbed.

Build the framework of a compost pile with simple wood pieces or fencing. Anything that will keep the pile together will do well in creating the base of the compost pile structure. Refrain from covering the bottom of the pile with any barrier that will keep worms and other bugs from having access to the pile once Spring arrives. Direct contact with the ground, or possibly raised a few inches off the ground, is a good way to build the base of your compost pile. Another critical point is to make sure that the pile is contained enough that it will retain heat in order to properly break down organic materials. You can get as creative as you want by using different reclaimed items from the yard as well.

2. Add Energy

You don’t need to be too precise with the ratio of ingredients in your compost pile. Don’t let the technical stuff keep you from getting started. You don’t need to measure out exact portions of greens to browns. If you keep your ratio around 50/50, then you should be good to go. Consider keeping a stockpile of leaves or carbon-based scraps nearby to add to the pile when you add green scraps. This will maintain a layering effect and relatively even ratios. However, don’t fret if you miss a carbon addition or two.

Adding nitrogen to your compost pile is essential to building up the amount of energy within it. Using excess grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and even some food scraps such as coffee grounds will all help to add natural composting energy.

Carbon is essential in compost piles, and winter is a great time to add those fallen leaves from nearby trees to the mix. Other good sources of carbon include paper towels (no chemicals such as cleaners), newspaper shreds, and wood shavings.

3. Don’t Entice Critters

Note that when adding many food scraps to a compost pile, make sure that you don’t start a critter restaurant in your backyard. Build a compartment with a locked door or use a fully enclosed container to keep your compost pile from becoming the neighborhood buffet.

4. Mix It Up

After you add energy to your pile make sure to mix it up to incorporate all of the new ingredients. Pitchforks are useful for this job, but other tools can be used including shovels or hoes. Moisture is vital to the decay process so make sure that your pile isn’t too dry. Mixing up your compost pile allows it to receive enough oxygen to decay as well. Make a plan to mix up the compost pile at least 1-2 times per week to help the process along.

5. Include Some Heat

Those of you who live in warmer winter locations will have varying degrees of heat within their pile. Retaining some heat within the compost pile is vital to the decaying process. If you think that your location may bring on some unusually brisk winter weather, consider insulating the pile with extra layers of warmth along the outside of the structure.

If your compost pile is covered with a thick blanket of ice or snow, consider allowing it to sit until you can quickly turn it over. Compost piles that are frozen won’t be decaying, but they will become ready once warmer temperatures arrive. Consider adding to the pile throughout the winter and be prepared to turn it once it thaws up.

Beginning a compost pile in the winter is a great time to utilize the many fallen leaves that have probably fallen over your yard this fall. Adding layers of greens and browns is essential, as well as including oxygen, heat, and moisture to the mix. Even if winter weather keeps your compost pile from beginning the decaying process, you will still be able to start the foundation of the pile in preparation for Spring warmth.

Consider starting a compost pile this winter to reduce waste sent to the landfill and to begin creating a useful source of energy for your garden come springtime.


What do you do with your compost over the winter months? Share in the comments!

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About the Author
Jackie Greene
Jackie Greene

Jackie Greene is a blogger, gardener, and nutrition enthusiast. She enjoys creating organic meals for family and friends using the fresh in... more

  • Ca G. 3 days ago
    I love doing yard work in the wintertime, no bugs and not too hot.
  • tommy b. 3 days ago
  • Mark F. 9 days ago
    Vermicomposting is also a great way to continue composting in cold weather. FMI see
  • Gina L. 9 days ago
    I would like more ideas of how to keep the critters out. It seems no matter what deterrents I use the buggers are a nuisance.