How to compost in the fall and winter
In some ways composting is simple – get the right mix of ingredients, a little carbon, a little nitrogen, throw in some bacteria, and worms if you choose, and voila! Your compost bin is rocking and rolling.
We know that warmer temperatures speed up the decomposition process, but what if you live in a climate where the temperature can dip into the single digits in the winter? What can you expect during the fall and winter and how should you prepare?
Here’s a four step guide to keep your compost bin active during the cooler months.
1) Don’t disturb the pile!
Usually, it makes sense to turn your pile, giving it air to speed up the decaying process. But the opposite is true when the temperature dips. Because the speed of decomposition is related to the heat of the pile, turning it will make it colder and slow the process down. So leave it be! And, less work for you.
2) Protect it from precipitation
When a lot of water gets into your pile from a heavy rain or snow melting, the air that bacteria need to do their work gets forced out. In the summer rain is fine, as the warmer air helps with evaporation, and you want to keep your bin from drying out. But in colder weather, too much water in your compost pile can smother your friendly bacterial friends.
3) Create a heat barrier
By surrounding your compost bin with another material, such as a tarp, hay bales, or even cinder blocks, you can provide another layer that prevents frost and keeps the temperature above normal.
4) Bigger is better
The more mass your compost pile has in the winter the better, since the bulk of your pile forms a barrier around the core, where most bacterial activity will take place.
If all of this seems like too much work, never fear! Your compost bin will still be there in the spring, should you decide to take a break and resume activity in the warmer months.
And, good news for those who don’t yet have a compost bin, but are looking to get one: the best time to start composting is in early spring when weather warms up, but it pays to start filling your bin in the fall so that you have enough in your pile so that it’s ready by spring. So, now’s the time to start planning!
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