Can You Compost in the Winter? (Methods & Tips)

Composting is the best way to turn yard waste and kitchen scraps into valuable products, such as nutritious compost. But what happens when winter arrives? The bacterial activity in the compost pile slows down as the temperature drops in the winters, resulting in a slower breakdown. And, there is no composting if there is no decomposition. So, can you compost in winter?

You can compost in winters with the help of a properly insulated composting bin and by providing sunlight to your compost pile. The decomposition process is slow due to lack of heat, which can be remedied by aerating the pile and increasing the bacterial population.

Winter composting is an excellent way to create a healthy soil additive that you can use in your beautiful gardens in the blooming months of spring.

How to Compost in Winters:

Composting can be challenging during the winter months because microorganisms become dormant when the temperature drops and decomposition eventually come to a halt.

There are, however, other methods, such as indoor composting, including Bokashi Composting, vermicomposting, and hot composting, that allows you to continue composting even in colder months:

1. Vermicomposting:

Vermicomposting, also known as worm composting, is a very efficient composting process during the winter season. This technique requires little effort and is the most effective way to recycle your kitchen waste. You can easily prepare your vermicompost at home in winter following these steps:

  • First, take an opaque storage container of the size you want your worm bin to be.
  • Drill holes on the top of the sides of the container for air circulation.
  • Now prepare a bed at the bottom of the container with dry organic materials like dried leaves, moist sawdust, potting soil, shredded papers, yard waste, etc.
  • Now put the worms in the worm bin. The best worms for vermicomposting are Red Wigglers.
  • Add some food scraps from the kitchen for the worms to feed on. Avoid putting oily food items, meats, and bones in the bin.
  • Bury the worms with composting substance and dampen the worm bin, so it’s pretty moist but not soggy.
  • Cover the bin with the lid or cardboards or paper bags, ensuring proper aeration in the worm compost bin. Do not use plastic bags because they can trap heat and other gases.
  • Keep your vermicompost bin in warmer areas to keep the worms active.

Tips for Healthy Vermicomposting:

  • Keep your vermicompost bin in a protected outdoor area, such as a garage or a porch. However, bring your worm compost indoors if you want to keep it active throughout the winter.
  • Overfeed the worm bin to keep the worms warm and boost microbial activity.
  • Always put shredded or chopped food waste in the winter compost bin for faster decomposition.
  • Always keep your bin full with composting substances to allow the worms to thrive.
  • Use bags or cardboard to insulate your worm bin to keep it warm for the worms and bacteria.

2. Bokashi Composting:

Bokashi composting is an anaerobic composting method that allows you to reuse your kitchen waste even in winters. It’s a more effective method since it involves inoculating bran with special EM microbes capable of breaking down items such as chopped meat, bones, and greasy foods to create a pre-compost material.

When this material is buried in the soil for 1-2 weeks, it turns into nutritious humus for the soil.

The bacteria in the bokashi bran function perfectly well at room temperature and do not require air or sunlight, making it an ideal composting method for winters. Follow these steps to start bokashi composting:

Bokashi composting
  • Take two large buckets and drill holes in the bottom of one of the two buckets.
  • Place a brick in the center of the bucket without holes and place the other bucket inside, resting it on the block. You can use a different type of elevation than brick.
  • Take a clean round cloth and place it on the top bucket’s floor.
  • Spread a thin layer of Bokashi Bran on the cloth; only a handful is sufficient.
  • Next, cover the bran with a 1-2 inch layer of food scraps, followed by another layer of bran on top of the waste.
  • Continue alternating layers until your bokashi bin is full with the top layer of a sufficient amount of bran.
  • Next, place a bucket liner on top and compress all materials inside the bucket to remove any air pockets.
  • Leave your bokashi bin with the airtight bucket lid for 15-20 days. The waste decomposes typically into pre-compost within 2 weeks. However, it is best to leave it for a few days longer in winter so it can ferment before going into the soil. 
  • When your ‘pre-compost’ material is ready, you can bury it in the soil for further fermentation, store it, or add it to your compost pile to revamp it. 

The pre-compost material should not reach your plants immediately after coming out of the bokashi bucket as it’s still highly acidic and can burn them.

Essential Tips for Composting in Winters:

Compost piles go dormant because of the cold climate in winters. Here are some winter composting tips to help you keep your pile active throughout the winters:

Compost piles

1. Using More Leaves

Winter compost pile requires brown, dry material for aeration and survival. You can store fall leaves in black trash bags and use them for composting.

If you don’t have access to dried leaves, you can collect twigs, sawdust, woodchips, straws, plant detritus, or even paper.

2. Covering Green Materials with Browns

Covering green materials with browns is the best way to make a healthy winter compost pile. Brown materials, such as leaves and papers, will act as insulation and keep the warmth in the center of the heap.

3. Feeding

Keep feeding your compost pile with nitrogen-rich material to maintain the proper ratio of browns and greens.

4. Using Large Tumblers

Using a compost tumbler will keep your winter compost pile from absorbing excess moisture from the ground during rain or snow melting.

5. Shredding

Shredding the green and brown organic materials accelerates the decomposition process by increasing the surface area for microorganisms to feed.

6. Insulating the Compost Pile

Insulating the compost heap in winters is necessary to save it from freezing. You can use bags of leaves, wood chips to surround the bin or ring the leaves on the inside of the bin.

7. Harvesting

Harvest the finished compost to keep the compost heap from stacking up too much. Since the decomposition is slower in winters, the components inside the pile can rot and ruin the humus.

8. Turning the Pile

Turn the pile on bright and clear sunny days to provide heat into the pile. Avoid doing it on cold days as it may cause the trapped heat to escape.

Advantages of Winter Composting:

  • When you keep or start composting in the winter, you will have a healthy compost ready to use for the spring.
  • Winter composting, like indoor or vermicomposting, does not require much maintenance.
  • Overheating is never a problem when you compost in cold weather.
  • Composting will reduce the amount of kitchen garbage in the landfills.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How to store compost during winter?

The compost can be stored in buckets or trash cans with air holes. It’s best to use opaque, dark-colored buckets to keep the temperature warm. Plastic bags with holes, fabric bags, and plastic kitchen pails are good alternatives to store compost in winter. 

How to speed up composting in winter?

You can speed up winter composting by relocating your composting bin to a more open and sunny area of your garden and providing adequate insulation and warmth using bags of leaves, straw bale, sawdust, and cupboards, among other materials. 

Can I do hot composting in winter?

You can do hot composting in winters using a sizable composting bin because the small bins will not heat up adequately. Remember to maintain the proper ratio of browns and greens in a pile and place the bin in a sunnier area to keep it hot and active.

What materials can you compost in winter?

In the winter, you can compost green waste such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, eggshells, nutshells, and brown materials, including twigs, sawdust, woodchips, leaves, grass clippings, and trimmings, hay, shredded newspapers, and cardboards. 

Should I cover my winter compost pile?

Your compost pile should be covered to keep it safe from rains, frosting, and excessive precipitation. In addition, insulation helps keep your compost pile warm in winters.