Tag Archives: winter composting

Think Cool: Winter Worm Composting (article)

[Originally found here: http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/winter-worm-composting.aspx]

Even in the heat of summer, it’s not to early to consider ways to keep our garden friends, our composting worms, fully employed over the winter Vermicompost harvestmonths. For now, use that vermicompost for some worm “compost teas” to help your gardens with the stress of this summer’s heat. When cold weather comes, gather your materials and try overwintering your worms outside.

Cold weather (remember that?) will definitely slow the activity of a worm colony. Although my experience is that worms can be incredibly hardy, there’s no reason to miss a beat over the winter. The two key factors are shelter and heat.

Last winter I chose had to replace my compost bins cause they were rotten. They were oak pallets and they had lasted about seven years. I took the old pallets out, but wanted to level the site, so I started digging. What I found was a very rich layer of vermicompost between and under the pallets. Remember, I’ve been filling my bins with worms and managing for their happiness for the whole seven years.

I ended up with a level site and nine wheelbarrows full of vermicompost! As I shoveled the black gold aside, I tried to put the material with the most worms farthest from the compost bin pad. I spread the vermicompost on my garden and mulched it for the winter.

What was left over was perhaps three wheelbarrows of finished vermicompost and most of my worms. I covered the pile with some clear plastic greenhouse glazing. I never stopped putting my household food scraps on the south side of the pile. I simply came outside, lifted the plastic and a layer of straw and threw the scraps into the pile. What happened was that I started an active composting pile. There was enough food coming in, getting mixed in and covered to get hot and keep the whole area well above freezing. The winter sun helped warm the pile through the clear plastic. On cold nights there was condensed moisture on the inside of the plastic but the pile was plenty warm enough to keep going. Compost windrow

The worms were hanging out at the edges of the pile, staying warm and well fed. Although last winter was mild, this strategy will work well as far north as Minnesota, as I found out on a tour of compost education programs to St. Cloud in 1993. I visited Compost Guru, Jim McNelly (founding board member of the U.S. Composting Council) as he brought me in to educate in the schools there. He had a busy worm colony in a small black plastic compost unit outside his house in a tough winter.

Top photo: On the left is the windrow full of vermicompost that I harvested from the dark flat area on the right. Notice the clear plastic covering the pile, the pallets that will become the next bin and the stored bags of leaves.

Lower photo: The worms are hard at work under the clear plastic and the straw layer. The 2 x 4’s are not a part of the system, just left overs from the compost bin being built in the background.

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This is a great example of how simple you can make a vermicomposting system.  With a nice sized hole and enough straw plus a tarp, you can keep your worms alive and well through the winter.  I don’t know how they do it, but they do it.

I spotted a mouse sitting on top of my Worm Inn a while ago, and although he didn’t get in the system, it bummed me out.  It was my fault though, I didn’t have a nice layer of bedding covering the food scraps.  That’s the key with vermicomposting, whether it’s indoor or outdoor, is to always cover your deposits with plenty of bedding material.

Although it’s probably too late for me this winter, I’d like to try the outdoor method soon.  It’s hard to see the point though, with my main compost bin still cooking and handling all my scraps with ease…

Get Your Leaves!

Now’s the time of year to start collecting all the leaves you can.  With winter right around the corner, having a steady supply of leaves to complement your food scraps is super important to keeping the pile cooking as long as it can.

While cold temperatures can bring composting to a complete stop, don’t worry- as soon as the temperatures begin to climb again, the pile picks up right where it left off as if nothing happened.

I keep adding materials through the winter, but the key is to have enough brown material to keep the food scraps covered.  Between sawdust (non-pressure treated wood) and shredded leaves, you’re good to go!

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.

What’s the secret to successful composting through the winter?

What’s the secret to successful composting through the winter? Building a worm bin, of course. Now don’t get afraid, just stay with me here. For some reason, people get scared by the thought of having worms in their kitchen. I promise it’s not bad, and you’ll learn to love it. New to worms? I’ll explain what you need to know so you can get started in no time.

Backyard composting is my favorite, I love to do it and spend time every day with my dirt. I’m not even much of a gardener, I just love the dirt. However, when winter arrives it can really slow down the composting process and I don’t really like going outside so much. The solution to this is creating your own worm bin.

Sure, you can buy a series of worm trays, which may cost you near $100 depending on how many trays you get, but I find that this design is a bit laborious to deal with. A much simpler method involves using a “shallow”, opaque tub with between 10 and 20 1/8″ holes drilled around the top. The worms need a good mix of moisture and oxygen to do their thing, and they don’t like light. Must be great to be a worm.

The main ingredient to worm bins is shredded paper and cardboard, this acts as their bedding. Like a compost pile, add your food scraps, but avoid the meat and dairy products. One exception is eggshells, which are high in calcium and promote worm reproduction. More worms equals more productivity, although I recommend starting small and let them reach their natural equilibrium.

Alternate layers of cardboard/paper and food scraps, ending with a layer of cardboard. Spray the bin down with water to get it moist, then let it sit for at least a week before adding any worms. You can order red wigglers online for between $20 and $40, or maybe you know someone that has some already. It reminds me of sharing tools with the neighbors, giving out kombucha babies, finished compost. If you don’t know anyone with them, then I guess you’ve volunteered as the starting point of giving out worms to future composters. Good for you.

Although I live in a tightly packed city, I’m lucky to have a backyard and be able to have an awesome compost tumbler. I realize it’s not as easy for others to do, so worm composting is definitely the way to go. It’s ideal for apartment dwellers to try out and see the results for themselves. You’ll nearly cut your garbage in half, and you’ll have some super-fertile compost to use in your garden, or give to someone else that does.

So there’s your project for this winter: Set up a worm bin, reap the benefits and try not to have too much fun with it. It’s addictive, and you can feel really good about it. Happy composting!