Composting is a great way to control your kitchen waste and live a more eco-friendly lifestyle year-round. If you’re new to composting, the idea of composting during winter might be intimidating. The process of proper composting relies, in part, upon heat, so some assume winter composting is impossible. Thankfully, this isn’t the case.
Depending on where you live, both indoor and outdoor composting can continue through the winter months. That being said, you may need to adjust your approach to account for the drop in temperature, any changes to your backyard’s accessibility during winter, and other details. To help you master the art of winter composting, we’ve put together an informative guide that covers these topics:
Before we get into all the ways you can continue to compost in winter, let’s discuss how winter composting is even possible.
Can you compost in the winter?
Yes, you can compost in the winter - unless you live in an area with extremely cold winters. The composting process only stops when the organic waste in your pile reaches freezing temperature. You may want to consider composting indoors or taking steps to keep your pre-compost hot so it doesn’t freeze.
Preventing your pile from reaching freezing temperature so it can continue to decompose isn’t terribly complex. That said, not everyone loves the idea of walking out into the cold to maintain a compost pile all winter long. That’s why many switch to an indoor composting bin during the winter months. If you’re set on composting outdoors, we can help you with that too.
How to compost in the winter: 4 tips to make it happen
Can you start a compost pile in the winter? Yes! Unless you live in an extremely cold climate, there’s never a bad time to start composting outdoors. Don’t know what to do with compost in winter? Snow can make using a compost tumbler difficult, so a traditional pre-compost pile will do. To create quality compost, however, you should incorporate the tips listed below.
1. Keep your compost warm
One of the most important things to remember about composting is that the process relies upon heat. The warmer your outdoor pre-compost pile is, the faster the decomposition process will be. Not sure how to heat up compost in winter? It’s not as difficult as you might think.
In winter, you don’t actually have to turn your pre-compost piles. Doing so can actually cause your pile to lose heat. Hot composting in winter largely comes down to how well you insulate your pile. You can insulate a large pre-compost pile by covering it with a tarp, old blanket, or rug. You can also surround your pile with insulating materials like hay bales or pad your pre-compost with materials like wood chips or sawdust.
Pro tip: Another great way to keep your pre-compost pile warm is to find the right place for it. If you’re not sure where to place your pre-compost bin, try to find a spot that’s exposed to lots of sunlight.
2. Chop and shred waste first
Given the drop in temperature, creating finished winter compost can take weeks or even months. If you’d like to learn how to speed up compost in winter, there’s a simple and effective trick you can try. Start mulching, chopping, or shredding your garden waste and food waste before adding it to your winter compost bin.
Breaking materials down offers the microorganisms involved in the composting to have more surface area to feed off of, increasing their efficiency. This short step can have a serious impact on your winter composting. You may even begin incorporating it into your summer composting routine!
Pro tip: Chopping and shredding waste is also something you can incorporate into your summer composting routine to get finished compost faster.
3. Balance green and brown compost
Maintaining a proper mix of green and brown materials is key to aiding the decomposition process during winter. Without a good mix of brown and green waste, your compost pile may not heat up enough to decompose properly.
You need to have both green and brown materials in your pile - ideally, a ratio of about 3 or 4 parts browns to 1 part greens. If you have too much of one material, your pre-compost pile will take longer to break down and may start to smell.
Pro tip: Browns are carbon rich materials like straw, leaves, paper, and pine needles. Green materials are nitrogen rich items like egg shells, grass clippings, and coffee grounds.
4. Harvest existing compost
Because the process will slow down in colder temperatures, it’s important to keep up with your outdoor composting pile. You don’t want to leave more waste out there than necessary, so it’s wise to harvest any existing compost in late autumn before it starts getting cold. This frees up more space for fresh materials.
Not sure what to do with your finished compost before starting a new pile? Once harvested, you could sprinkle or rake your compost into your flower, vegetable, or tree beds. You could also blend the mixture in with your potting soil so it can benefit your indoor plants.
Pro tip: If this is your first time harvesting pre-compost, you’ll want a spading fork, manure fork, or shovel to remove it from the pile. A wheelbarrow is also helpful for transportation.
4 best ways to compost indoors in winter
Indoor composting is a much simpler process. Indoor compost is kept in a climate-controlled environment, so it doesn’t have to contend with cold temperatures or poor conditions. This allows you far more control and consistency over compost production year-round.
Do you think indoor composting might be the right choice for your household this year? Here are 4 of the most popular indoor winter composting methods, including some of the best composters for the job.
1. Make a DIY basic bin
One of the easiest ways to compost indoors is with a basic bin. You can create your own indoor composting bin with any bucket you might have at home. Assuming the lid doesn’t have an airtight seal, you’ll likely be doing aerobic composting. This is a process that uses microorganisms that rely on oxygen to break down your waste.
Though a DIY bin is simple and affordable, there are a few downsides to going this route. Aerobic indoor composting could potentially result in some odors. The bucket may also be too small for your household, as the waste inside will still take some time to decompose.
2. Use an electric composter
An electric composter offers most of the benefits of a simple bin with none of the drawbacks. Countertop composters like Lomi only need a few hours to transform your kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich dirt. They’re quick, quiet, and won’t release any odors into your kitchen. These composters are a great solution for people living in apartments and those who are unable to manage an outdoor pile during winter.
3. Buy a bokashi bin
Bokashi composting bins differ from your typical bin because they rely on anaerobic composting (decomposition without oxygen). When using a bokashi bin, you can use a special bokashi bran mixture to accelerate the decomposition process. Simply drop your kitchen scraps into your bin, sprinkle the bran mixture on top, and close the tight fitting lid. Your waste will be broken down into usable compost within a few weeks.
4. Try vermicomposting
Vermicomposting, or worm composting, is the use of worms (usually red wigglers) to convert organic materials into fertilizer. By eating your waste, worms break up debris and create pathways through the pile. This aerates the pre-compost and makes it easier for other organisms to aid in decomposition. Worms can die from exposure to the cold, so indoor bins specifically designed for them are ideal.
Items you can compost in winter
You can compost all the materials in winter that you’d normally compost in the summer. That includes a variety of food waste, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and yard waste like grass clippings, dry leaves, and sticks.
If you notice that your pile is beginning to look sloppy or waterlogged, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re composting the wrong things. This is quite common for those living in wet climates or areas that experience a great deal of snowfall. To keep your pre-compost from smelling or getting overly moist, you may need to add more brown items than you normally would. Brown materials like wood chips, sawdust, and straw can absorb moisture and prevent waterlogging.
Items to avoid composting in winter
The list below is similar to what you generally shouldn’t compost at any time of the year. That said, there are some outliers. The decomposition process slows down when it gets cold, so some items won’t be composed fast enough and may attract unwanted critters.
Knowing what not to compost may be more important than knowing what’s okay to compost. That’s because adding certain items into your pile, like the ones listed below, could spread disease, attract pests, or even pose a fire risk (in the case of fireplace ash). Without further ado, here are items to avoid composting during the winter months.
1. Excess animal or dairy waste
It’s okay to add dairy waste to your winter pre-compost pile, but you should definitely do so in smaller quantities. Both dairy and meat waste can take a long time to break down during the colder months, which means they’re more likely to attract pests. If you want to pest-proof your pre-compost pile, you definitely shouldn’t add any meat scraps or animal bones to the heap.
2. Diseased plants
You should never add diseased plants to your compost, whether you’re using compost tumblers, traditional compost piles, or a regular compost bin. Diseased plants, including those treated with insecticides, fungicides, or herbicides, could spread disease or kill important composting organisms. You should also avoid composting perennial weeds, unless you want hundreds of dandelions popping up in your lawn come spring.
3. Diapers and animal feces
Just because something’s compostable doesn’t mean it should be added to your winter composting pile. Both human and animal feces are great examples of this. Human feces can contain pathogens and bacteria, while pets can carry things like E.coli and ringworm. Needless to say, these aren’t things you want to use to nourish your vegetable garden.
This being the case, used diapers are definitely not a good addition to your pre-compost. Unused diapers would also be a poor choice, as they contain lots of tabs, elastics, and other non-compostable materials that could contaminate your pile.
4. Metal, plastic, and glass
You should never put metal, plastic, or glass into your winter compost pile (or summer pile, for that matter). Even small amounts of these materials can contaminate your pre-compost. The reason? They’re inorganic and non-biodegradable. That means even the naturally occurring microbes in your compost can’t break them down.
Is outdoor composting in the winter possible?
Winter composting outdoors is definitely possible, though it’s more complex than composting during the summer or composting indoors. That said, you can successfully continue composting into the colder months if you learn how to maintain a healthy pile and are willing to put a bit of work into it.
To effectively compost outdoors during our coldest season, you’ll need to find the right place for your pile. You’ll then need to carefully balance your brown and green materials, properly insulate your pile, and only add items to the heap that belong there. You should get the hang of outdoor winter composting quickly, but there’s nothing wrong with considering an indoor alternative.
Try Lomi - the most convenient way to compost in winter
If you don’t have the backyard space for a compost pile, or the desire to go trudging into the snow, Lomi could be the solution for you. With this kitchen composter, you’ll have a composting solution that’s active year round.
When you use Lomi, you don’t have to worry about freezing temperatures, finding ways to retain heat, or moisture control. This smart device takes care of all of that for you as it breaks down your scraps using heat, oxygen, and abrasion. Within hours, Lomi will transform your organic waste into natural fertilizer for your indoor plants.
For all of its complexities, composting is a rewarding and environmentally friendly approach to waste management. Regardless of how you choose to compost, a bit of preparation can go a long way. That’s why we have helpful guides to teach you the ins and outs of outdoor composting and tips on how to use a variety of composters.
Written by: E Sawden