Gardeners know the benefits of using compost in their gardens. It improves the soil tilth and adds nutrients to help plants grow and thrive. Gardeners also know that the best compost is made at home, using kitchen and garden organic waste, which also keeps this waste out of landfills. We gardeners diligently compost as much as we can through spring, summer and fall but when winter rolls around, we often stop. Organic waste freezes and our compost bins get full and it is much easier to simply throw out valuable compost materials. Winter composting is very feasible but it does take a bit of preparation in the fall.
Compost bins - If you compost in a backyard bin, empty all the finished compost from that bin in the fall. Put the mature compost on your garden beds, to get them ready for next year or store the end product in plastic bins or garbage bags to use in the house or to have ready for next spring. Normally, when using these bins in the warmer season, you try to balance the green materials (kitchen waste, plant and grass clippings) with brown materials (fallen leaves, newspapers). In the winter, I tend to just put in my kitchen waste. This leaves more space for the kitchen waste and because it freezes almost as soon as it is added, there is no smell and no compost breakdown. As soon as it starts to warm up, add brown materials and stir it up.
Compost piles - If you allocate a corner of your property as a compost pile, keep adding kitchen waste to the pile. It freezes quickly and so does not create a smell or does not attract animals to the pile. As soon as it starts to warm up, cover the pile with leaves or with soil.
Compost bins and piles are usually not right outside your kitchen door. This means trips through snow banks to get to them and often deters the most ardent composter. There are other approaches that might keep your composting habits alive.
Composting in Containers - Place large containers that are used in the summer to grow flowers and vegetables close to your door. Put a small layer of shredded leaves or newspapers at the bottom of the container. Add organic waste to the container throughout the winter. In early spring, this waste starts to shrink and break down. When it is time to plant up the containers, top them up with potting soil or soil-less mix usually used in your containers and plant normally. The containers now contain a healthy layer of compost and plants can grow happily. This is a tip from Harrowsmith magazine. I found two drawbacks with this approach. First of all, the containers can fill quickly with snow. Cover them with a tarp or with a board that can easily be removed to add more material. Secondly, as the compost started to break down in the spring, a lot of liquid ran out the bottom, onto the deck. Setting the containers off the deck or putting a plant saucer under it prevented that problem.
Composting in Garbage Cans - Line one or two (or more) garbage cans with large plastic garbage bags. All winter long, add organic kitchen waste to the garbage cans. In the spring, the compost will melt and start to decompose. Empty it into your compost pile or bin. This works well if garbage cans are kept in a cold space (unheated garage, shed or outside your back door) so the compost does not smell.
Vermicomposter (Worm Factory) - Let the worms eat your kitchen waste. A vermicomposter is a plastic bin partially filled with moist newspaper and with about 500 grams of Red Wiggler worms. Add organic kitchen waste to the bin and let your worms produce beautiful compost. The smaller the pieces of fruit and vegetable waste you add to your bin, the more efficient the composting process. Worm Factories are readily available from Seed Catalogues or online sources.
However you choose to compost over the winter, you will be rewarded in the spring with more wonderful compost, truly a gardener’s best friend.
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