Tag Archives: winter composting

Composting in the Winter

It’s that time of year where the emails start coming in to ask how to keep composting through the winter.  While it takes some up-front effort, it is possible.

If you’ve already lost all the heat in the pile, keep adding to it until it can’t get any bigger.  Once the temperatures rise just enough for the process to get going again, it will.

That’s the bright side of those days we have each year in the winter where it’s 60 degrees for no apparent reason.

Collect as many bags of leaves as you can, since this will be your insulation and cover material throughout the winter.  I slacked off this year, but still managed to shred a few bags’ worth.

Now’s the time where covering your pile with a hefty layer of straw makes a HUGE difference in keeping the heat in.

When you go outside to the pile each week to empty your food scraps, be as quick as you can… you can watch the steam coming off the pile and the temperature will drop quickly.  Once the temperature drops off, it’s hard to bring it back.

So there you have it- bundle up the bin, or work with worms inside the house.

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.

Steaming Piles of Compost

Steaming Piles of Compost

Good short clip showing the steam… probably the coolest part of composting through the cold months.

How to do it?  Have a pile at least 3’x3’x3′ in size, comprised of half shredded browns (preferably leaves).  Add the food scraps, cover with more browns, moisten, cover the pile with a tarp or lots of straw.

Composting with red worms outside during the winter (video)

Composting with red worms outside during the winter

Oh, Utah winter… can’t imagine!  People in Philadelphia complain over an inch.  Admittedly I’m getting tired of snow already.

A pit in the ground works through the winter…pretty cool!  Black plastic on top, plenty of cardboard underneath can work wonders for keeping the worms going through the cold months.

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…