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There I was in the middle of January with a bucket of vegetable trimmings in one hand and a shovel in the other. I was breaking off the layer of snow and ice on my compost pile so I could add the next contribution toward my spring crop of compost.
The first year or two I had actively composted—which was many moons ago—I quit adding kitchen scraps during the winter months because the pile was usually one solid, frozen mass.
But I must have read somewhere, probably Organic Gardening magazine, that you could keep composting during all winter long. So I was finally giving it a try!
I chopped through the icy exterior and dumped in my scraps.
A couple of days later when I repeated the process, all I saw was an array of frozen veggie parts on top of the heap. But that did not deter me. I kept adding the vegetable trimmings every few days or so.
A couple of times that winter, it thawed up just enough for me to mix in those winter additions to the pile.
And you know what! By the time Old Man Winter had breathed his last breath, most of those frozen carrot tops, etc. had begun to decompose. When spring arrived in full bloom, the compost was ready for the garden.
Okay, I had to sift out a few stray bits that needed a little more time in the “compost oven.” But overall I had a super batch of homemade, organic compost to add to my vegetable beds.
Here are three main reasons you should continue to add things to your compost pile during the winter.
1. All your vegetable trimmings will not go to waste.
I don’t know about you, but I hate for food to go to waste and carrot tops and vegetable peels are no exception. Before I started year-round composting, I always felt guilty about throwing all that stuff in the trash. Plus, I pay by the pound when I take garbage to the transfer station (or, the “dump” as I call it).
2. You will have more compost in the spring
Think of how many vegetable scraps you produce each week during the winter months. We can easily come up with a gallon or more twice a week, or about 2 gallons a week.
So do the math. There are 13 weeks of winter, plus a few other weeks in fall and spring, which didn’t get the memo that winter—from the calendar’s perspective—hasn’t officially arrived or is technically over.
Let’s say there are 15-20 weeks where actively composting seems a bit counter-intuitive. (Obviously, if you live in southern states, the cold months are fewer and less severe.) To be conservative, let’s go with 15 weeks at 2 gallons of compostables per week.
That is 30 gallons of organic matter you can “invest” in your compost pile or throw into the garbage to decay and decompose to no one’s benefit. It’s your choice.
30 GALLONS! That’s six of those big water cooler bottles. That is a lot of extra compost come spring. Of course you won’t get that much compost because as things decompose they shrink in volume, but you will still have a lot more compost than you would have.
3. Your compost will be better.
When you compost, it’s always good to have mix of brown and green stuff, wet and dry. They work together to make it all come out better. There is a science to all the microbial action, but I’m not getting into that here.
During the summer, there’s always a mix of stuff going into the compost pile. But come fall, pretty much all I have is tons of leaves and dead stalks from the garden.
All that will eventually transform itself into compost, but as you add the vegetable scraps during the winter months, this actually aids the decomposition process. And you have a better balance of organic matter in your pile—which is good.
Yes, it is winter and process is much slower during the cold months, but there is still bio-activity going on—especially if you get an occasional warmer day. We call it the “January thaw” here in Connecticut.
Some tips to keep your compost pile going in the winter.
- To keep ice and snow and therefore excess moisture off your compost pile, cover it with a tarp or even build a roof over it. You still need access to it if you plan to add kitchen scraps on a regular basis.
- Make a bigger pile. This helps retain the heat and stay active longer into the cold months.
- Shred things in smaller pieces. And shred your leaves if possible. Other wise they clump together and there is not enough air for them to decompose properly. This helps the composting process start quicker in your pile because things are already broken down a bit. It’s sort of like chewing your food instead of swallowing it whole. Better for everyone.
- Build a protective barrier around your compost pile with cement blocks or hay bales. This helps insulate it to some degree.
There IS another way…
If you just can’t get into racing out the back door in the freezing weather to dump your compost bucket onto a cold, hard pile of frozen muck, there is another solution.
You can set up an inside worm composting system called vermiculture. Using either homemade containers or bins specifically designed to propagate earthworms, you can have an indoor composting system. Those hungry little worms can process a lot of vegetable scraps. Then in the spring you will have the worm castings, a terrific natural fertilizer, to add to your garden.
I guess I have to say as a disclaimer, if you have one of those tumbler type composters, or a small upright plastic bin, adding things during the winter probably won’t work too well. I would give the indoor worm composting a try instead.
So hope you’ll brave the cold and make the winter dash from your kitchen door to your compost pile. Or give the worm composting idea a try. You’ll have more compost in the spring and you wont throw away perfectly good kitchen scraps.
Happy composting,James Early Organic Gardening 365 Dedicated to helping you get more out of your organic garden all year long
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