Fall temperature drops will cause the outer layer of the pile will cool down, however, inside temperatures will remain hot. This occurs because aerobic decomposition is an exothermic reaction, meaning that heat is released as decomposition occurs. Your goal as a winter composter is to maintain the microbial community so that decomposition can occur all winter long. Here are some winter composting tips and tricks:
1. Insulate! To keep your compost pile active all year long, try to use your compostable materials wisely. Leaf litter from backyard trees can be layered onto your pile to create an insulating barrier from frost.
2. Size Matters! Help your compost pile out by shredding your compost materials into smaller pieces, preferable smaller than 2 inches if possible. This allows for reduced energy expenditure during winter decomposing.
3. Healthy Diet! Maintaining a proper nutrient balance is essential in winter composting. Try to mix equal parts nitrogen rich “greens” with carbon rich “browns”. Some examples of greens are your kitchen scraps such as eggshells, coffee grounds and vegetable and fruit peelings. If you have backyard chickens their manure is considered a green and can be added (and will generate a great deal of heat while decomposing). Straw, fallen leaves, unbleached paper or sawdust are all examples of brown. You can also add in small amounts of ash from your wood or pellet stoves. This enhances the calcium, phosphorous and potassium in your compost pile.
Some final tips: during the winter months do not turn the compost. Turning the compost will disturb the fragile microbe community at the heart of your compost pile and will counteract all your layering and insulating efforts. Also, clear the snow off the top of your compost pile. The snow can act as an insulator, but on warmer days it will actually cool your compost pile.
We often view winter as a time when all of nature goes dormant. In keeping your compost pile active we observe that nature never really sleeps; and under the snow in our decomposing compost lies the hope of a beautiful and bountiful summer garden.