Tag Archives: composting in winter

Can you Compost Indoors with a Bin or Tumbler?

Depending on where you live, composting in the winter can be a real drag.

Every winter I receive emails asking if it’s possible to compost indoors.

The answer is pretty simple- If composting with worms, yes.  If you want to keep a compost tumbler or compost bin in your basement or the garage…no.

Well, I guess you can do what you want really, depending on your tolerance for other forms of life sharing your space.  Remember that compost piles are ecosystems full of life.

Materials break down year round…decomposition slows in the winter, but not enough to warrant bringing a composting system indoors.

Here’s the factors that come into play when trying to compost in the basement/indoors:

1) Mice.  Compost piles are nice, warm places to live…this can invite mice.  A compost tumbler can most likely avoid this issue, but then there’s…

2) Ants/flies/other critters.  Chances are they will find the compost pile.  They can enter a compost tumbler through the air holes.  If your compost tumbler doesn’t have air holes, return it and get another one.

3) Pests aside, composting indoors can allow for leachate to run from the bottom.  This would be a fun challenge, as with a good 12″ of fluffy browns in the bottom of the pile, this should sponge everything up… but you may still see a little bit depending on what you’re adding.

4) While composting shouldn’t cause any odor issues, a restricted space with that much material increases your chances that you will smell something.  Now that I’m naming all these reasons discouraging you from trying, it makes me want to try it.

5) Mess.  For this reason I’d say a compost bin is out of the question.  What do you do when you have finished material you’d like to remove?

Keep your composting system outdoors (unless you decide to start vermicomposting).

Stash enough cover material to last your weekly trips outside for the winter.  This could be as little as just a few bags of leaves.

Your pile will still shrink as time goes on, just not as noticeably as it does in the months well above freezing.

If you need to compost indoors for space constraints, leave it to the worms.  Otherwise, set something up outdoors.

Still Cookin’!

We just had a quick snowstorm and it’s going down to 7F tonight… the pile is hanging in there just above 90F.  It’s cool how the pile is melting the snow off the top. I feel like I could do a better job insulating the thing… this weekend’s deposit will hopefully keep the pile going.

Every time I open the tarp I worry that I’m going to lose all the heat, so I work as quickly as possible to keep the momentum going.  I want to take a picture of the steam barreling off of it next time.

Would be nice to stay warm in there… well, maybe not!


The Weekly Dump

Here’s my compost toilet bucket, part 1 of the weekly ritual.  After dumping it into my bin, I then dump in my weekly kitchen scraps.  Since it’s below freezing, I have to bring out a bucket of water from inside to rinse out the two containers.

After dumping the rinse water into the pile, I cover up the contents with the layer of leaves and finally the tarp.  Maybe I should make a video of the whole process?

After filling up my sawdust bucket and an inch of the compost toilet bucket, I’m ready to get back inside.  For less than ten minutes a week, this process couldn’t get any easier.

Composting In Winter (article)

[ originally found here: http://freshorganicgardening.com/composting-in-winter/ ]


If you think you can’t compost in the cold weather, think again. There are still ways you can maintain a compost pile even through the winter so that by the next planting season, you have plentiful amounts of beautiful black gold with which to nourish your Spring plants.

The success of a compost pile depends highly on the aerobic bacteria that break down waste. During winter, these microbes slow down because of the cooler temperature but they can still be active.

The center part of the pile is also the center of activity – it still heats up and decomposition still happens but not so in the outer layers which are at the mercy of temperature highs and lows. Therefore what you need to do is help the aerobic bacteria in the compost pile so they can do their job.

For some gardeners, the obvious solution to winter composting is to do it indoors using compost bins or worms in a method called vermicomposting.

However, for those who prefer to compost outdoors especially those dealing with large quantities of waste materials that can’t be handled by a typical indoor system, here are some tips to succeed in making compost despite the cold weather.

Build a roof over your pile.

This is one of the simplest ways to protect your compost pile and keep external environmental factors from slowing down the operation. A roof will help keep the pile dry in case of unwanted precipitation.

Lay down a tarp.

If building a roof over your pile is not an option, then simply putting a tarp over it can keep precipitation away as well as contain internal heat. Heat is necessary because it hastens the decomposition process. A hot pile means that the microbes are really at it, working fast to produce nice, dark compost.

Build a barrier around your pile.

Blocking in your compost pile also helps protect it from frost. Of course this is not necessary if you already have your compost pile in some type of holding unit.

Make your heap bigger.

The University of Illinois Extension said that making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season. Also, the bigger the heap, the hotter it will be, so the faster the decomposition process. Make your compost heaps at least one cubic yard especially if you’re in the Midwest where it can get pretty cold.

Compost in a hole or trench.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggests burying your compost. You can dig a trench in your garden and add organic wastes like kitchen scraps as you go. Every time you add something, make sure you bury the waste. You can learn more about trench composting in this post.

Alternatively, you can use the dig-and-drop composting method in winter. What you do is:

1. dig a hole up to a foot deep and as wide as you want it

2. drop compostable materials into the hole

3. replace the soil and you are done

To make this method work better, collect your food scraps and other organic material in a bucket or other container. When you have enough, bury the pile in your yard. The organic matter breaks down right in your garden, enriching the soil and activating the microbes that live in it.

Shred your organic wastes.

Shredding the materials you add in your compost will allow the pile to heat more uniformly and insulate it from outside temperature extremes, according to Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Before you add materials to your pile, shred them or cut them up to less than two inches in size.

Consider what type of system works best for you. Will you get better results if you compost indoors in a bin or outdoors? Consider also other factors that can affect your composting like available area, climate, the amount of materials you compost and your commitment to composting.          -Peter D

If you follow all the tips in this article, composting will be good to you year round…

Still Cookin’!

Pardon the ugly picture, but I couldn’t resist.  It’s night time, but I couldn’t wait until morning.

On late Sunday afternoon, I went outside my house and found several bags of leaves at the curbside.  I got really excited and stashed four massive bags in my backyard, in addition to the two that I shredded up and added to my compost pile.

I was getting concerned about the compost pile, as it was starting to fall out of the Steady range around 80 degrees.  Then I realized that it had been awhile since I added anything to it, so I contributed a hefty top layer of shredded leaves for insulation.  I need to go looking for straw, too.

In a little over 24 hours, just two bags’ worth of shredded leaves, a bucket from the compost toilet and a week’s worth of kitchen scraps revived the pile back up to just shy of 140 degrees!

I was a bit surprised, I didn’t think it would be that drastic of a change…but with a light rain over night and a warm day yesterday it was the perfect mix to rejuvenate the pile.

So remember, collect all the leaves you can, shred them and add them.  See if you can keep your compost cooking all winter long!

Even if you don’t make it all winter, you can be sure that when the temperatures start to climb again, it will start cooking again like nothing happened.

Compost Heat Recovery System kickstarter proposal?

Compost Heat Recovery – Kickstarter Campaign Video

Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/highfields/compost-heat-recovery-system

Tom Gilbert knows what’s up… I like the dramatic piano music as the backdrop for his explanations of how us humans have messed up the most basic life systems on Earth.  Fossil fuels, fertilizer, landfills…we know this is stuff is a bummer and there are viable alternatives for these.

I see that he met his financial backing goals… and you need to donate in order to get the updates on the project.  While I understand protecting his idea and design, it’s funny that we can’t see it until it’s freely downloadable for any and all people to utilize.  I’m excited to see what he came up with, and I hope it works out!

Any fight up against Monsanto/Cargill is one worth fighting for.  Although I’m not sure that composting technology is a direct fight against them as much as it’s against a number of industries such as waste haulers (and especially the crooks promoting waste to energy technology and calling it renewable energy which it isn’t).

I think now is a great time for a Food Inc. plug.  Check it out if you haven’t…it’s on Netflix.  I also found a stream of it here.

Winter Compost Hot House (video)

Winter compost hot house..wmv

What a great idea!  I’m curious if there’s airholes drilled anywhere on this, but since this will be going all winter with direct sunlight on it, I doubt it will matter much anyway.

I’m keeping my eyes peeled for some windows being tossed to the curb…this would be a fun project.  I currently have a tarp covering my compost bin, and it would definitely benefit from windows to get a bit more attention.  My main concern for using the tarp was to prevent cigarette butts from getting thrown in and starting a fire.

The downside to the tarp is when it rains, it collapses pretty easily into the bin.  A sturdy window frame wouldn’t have this problem!  Hmm…

Winter Composting: Should I Just Scrap It? (article)

By Ginny Figlar Colon, originally found here.

Nice … half-frozen veggie scraps molded together in a solid mass. Not exactly what I want to see in my compost bin. With at least five more months of cold weather before warmth and sunshine reappear, why do I even bother keeping the pile going?

Well, I guess I do know why. Diverting even a handful of potato skins from the trash gives me an unexplainable sense of satisfaction. (If you aren’t yet a composter, you just can’t relate to this strange obsession with vegetable scraps.)

So after filling my compost bin with a big batch of freshly raked leaves this weekend, I did a little online research to see what I could do to make it a wee bit more productive this winter.

Here’s my plan of attack:

1. Get a bigger under-the-sink kitchen compost bucket. Fewer trips through the snow will help me stay motivated to feed the outdoor bin all winter long.

2. Empty the compost bin now. Since decomposition slows considerably in the winter, the contents won’t shrink very fast and the bin can get overfilled in the process.

3. Save some leaves. I’m going to stockpile some of the leaves I’m raking now to periodically mix in with winter scraps. Some sites suggest using old tomato cages or covered garbage cans to hold the leaves.

4. Don’t turn the pile. Yep, it pays to be lazy all winter because turning a pile lets valuable heat out.

5. Break down the bits a bit more. Maybe I can get away with chucking a whole apple in the bin in the middle of the summer, but not when the thermometer is hitting negative numbers.

We’ll see if these extra steps make a difference come springtime. And, even if it doesn’t result in more compost, at least it saved some space at the landfill.

Want to learn more about composting? Check out our Gaiam Life Guide to Composting or watch sustainable living videos on GaiamTV.com!
I definitely recommend following everything on this list…and if you’d like to take it a step further, bring your work indoors to a worm composting system.  Chances are you’ll save space in your freezer, and you’ll create compost through the winter…although I don’t know what you’d do with it. 🙂

Guide to Composting in the Winter (article)

Have you ever checked out the website earth911.com?  I’ve checked it out plenty when it comes to finding recycling avenues for anything imaginable…but I never thought to see if they had any material on composting.  It turns out that they do, and I’ve been asked a lot about starting a compost pile in the winter.  While composting isn’t easy in the wintertime, it is doable.  Let’s see what earth911 has to say about it in the article below…

Just as you started to get into a solid groove with your compost pile this past summer and fall, churning over plentiful amounts of that beautiful garden gold, BAM! Winter hits.

But don’t throw in the shovel just because a white blanket of snow or a hardened sheet of ice now sits atop your compost pile. To help you get through the winter and ready to go once spring returns, learn some of the ins-and-outs of winter composting.

Listen to the experts

According to the University of Illinois Extension, “Composting [is] a biological process that decomposes organic material under aerobic ([meaning] oxygen [is] required) conditions. […] Composting speeds up the natural process of decomposition, providing optimum conditions so that organic matter can break down more quickly.”

In other words, a compost pile is an intentional strategy to speed up the decomposition process that nature, left alone, would take years to accomplish. To decompose at the rapid pace described above, the U of I Extension asserts that a main goal when composting is to promote the existence and propagation of aerobic bacteria.

Luckily for you, these compost dwellers are not picky eaters. And when they eat, they can turn up the heat – literally. According to the U of I Extension, aerobic bacteria heat up a compost pile when they eat, through the chemical process called oxidation. They especially love the carbon-rich (often called brown) materials, which give them energy. Another essential ingredient for your pile, nitrogen-rich (often called green) materials, help the bacteria grow big and strong and reproduce.

But why all the talk about the nutrient needs and chemical processes of bacteria? These factors can help us better understand why in the winter, at least if you live in a cold spot, composting is a different beast than it was in those warmer months.

The winter slow down

It happens to humans, so why can’t it happen to bacteria? The gray dreariness that often makes us want to go into hibernation mode (if only work, life, etc. would let us) also affects aerobic bacteria, in a manner of speaking.

The University of Illinois Extension says “warmer outside temperatures in late spring, summer and early fall stimulate bacteria and speed up decomposition. Low winter temperatures will slow or temporarily stop the composting process.” But fear not: “As air temperatures warm up in the spring, microbial activity will resume.”

Because ambient air temperature affects the speed of decomposition, when the temps cool down, so too does the aforementioned oxidation process. Instead of the voracious eaters they were in the summer and early fall, aerobic bacteria revert to a calmer state.

Yet even when the temperature drops, microbes responsible for the breakdown of organic matter can remain active in the compost pile, according the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. The center of the pile can be warm and actively composting because of heat generated by bacteria, but the outer layers of your pile are at the mercy of the daily highs and lows.

Furthermore, a compost pile needs the right amount of air and water (in addition to carbon and nitrogen) to be successful. So, when that winter snow and spring rain keeps on coming, your pile can get drenched. While water in the summer may be a necessary amendment, too much winter water will force air out of pore spaces in your compost pile, suffocating our dear aerobic bacteria friends.

Strategies for success, despite the cold

Here, a cinder block structure surrounds a compost heap. A block structure is one way to maintain internal pile heat longer into the winter. Photo: University of Illinois Extension

There are measures you can take to protect your pile from the elements and keep it viable further into the winter months. Here are some suggestions:

1. Build a roof. You have one over your head, why can’t your pile? Control external environmental factors by protecting your compost pile from unwanted precipitation.

2. Block it in. You may have noticed that the car in the garage or in the carport tends to be less frost-ridden in the morning than the car parked in the street. Without the protection of the house or other built structure, the car in the street is exposed to a bigger swing in nighttime temperatures.

Same principle applies to your compost pile. If you compost with heaps, build a protective barrier around your pile. If you already compost in some type of holding unit, you (and your compost pile) are covered.

3. Lay down a tarp. Putting a tarp over your compost pile not only whisks away unwanted precipitation, but it also helps contain the internal heat from the pile where you want it – in the pile.

4. Make a bigger heap. Extend the longevity of your pile by prepping early. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “During [the] fall months, making a good sized heap will help the composting process work longer into the winter season.”

Holding units are an alternative to heap piles, and can help protect the compost from winter elements that tend to slow the decomposition process. Photo: University of Illinois Extension.

Because volume is a factor in retaining compost pile heat, the U of I Extension suggests that for those in the Midwest, piles should be at least one cubic yard. The Midwest gets pretty cold, so it’s likely safe to say that this measurement suggestion can apply elsewhere in the U.S.

5. Shred it. According to the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, “Shredding the material in the pile to particles less than two inches in size will allow [the pile] to heat more uniformly and will insulate it from outside temperature extremes.”

6. Dig a hole and bury it. Another tip from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service suggests digging a trench in the garden or flowerbed and adding organic wastes like kitchen scraps (hold the meat, grease or animal fat, please!) little by little, making sure to bury the waste after each addition.

Similarly, “compost-holing,” or digging a one-foot deep hole anywhere in the yard and covering with a board or bricks until full of organic wastes, is another strategy to beat the winter cold and keep on composting.

Right method for the right place

In the end, it is always important to consider what type of system works best for you. The area available for composting, seasonal climate, along with the time commitment you are willing to give to your pile, all impact the type of composting system that would work best. Always do your research when looking to start, continue, or try a new type of composting system.