6 Ways to Keep Composting in Winter

Ed Wike
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Put a lid on it!

Why leave the lid off during the summer when the heat generated by the worms will actually keep your compost pile aerated and dry? Well, during the winter, we leave the lid off completely. In fact, we don’t even bother keeping the pile in the house. We’ve found that if we keep our compost pile dry and cool, we have no issues with critter or weed invasions.

Cover it!

You may worry that covering the compost pile in winter will stifle the fermentation process, but if you use the right kind of cover, it won’t. Loosely packing on straw or grass clippings, or other natural mulches will protect the compost in a way that will be less hot than usual. The mulch will retain heat, but will not keep the pile so hot that it could cause organic material to break down too quickly. Temperatures generated by a compost pile composting in winter will take a hit because of the outdoor temperatures. Covering with an insulating material like straw will make the pile work harder to heat itself back up to where it needs to be ‍ 40°C (105°F). Composting is still possible in cold temperatures, just expect the process to take longer than normal.

Protect it!

Now that winter is here, protecting your compost is the first challenge that you must face. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start a compost bin. Doing so is a great way to help your plants out in the spring. What it does mean, however, is that you need to take a few extra precautions to prevent the compost from freezing, drying out, and getting ruined.

To accomplish this for your compost bin, cover the compost with a waterproof tarp or plastic sheeting. Use bricks or some other type of weight to keep the tarp in place, and tie them together to keep moisture out.

A great way to allow the water you add to your compost bin to drain is to place it on top of a patio.

If you live in an especially rainy area, however, or if it’s not a patio, you can build a small raised platform for your compost bin. Create a platform which is about a foot high and two feet deep, and line the bowl of the bin with a waterproof tarp. It’s best to add a waterproof lining to the bin as well.

Be selective!

One of the most common reasons compost piles stop working in winter is over-inclusion: adding a little too much to the pile.

Keep your pile as small as possible. The smaller the better, as small compost piles heat up faster and stay hotter longer with less chance of drying out. The smaller the pile, the less oxygen it needs to sustain itself.

The smaller the pile, the less oxygen it needs to sustain itself. Add smaller amounts of material every few days.

Add less "brown" matter.

Add more carbon-rich material.

Add water! It will help loosen up the pile and keep it from drying out.

Dilute urine with water and add it to the compost pile.

Cover the pile with a burlap or tarp.

Make it bigger!

One of the overlooked aspects of composting is its waste management aspect. When we start composting, we tend to set it up and let it run its course. How much waste we put inside our compost bucket is usually what determines its progression.

Drastic jumps in the quantity we throw in can damage the microorganisms we are trying to keep alive inside. The best way to keep the microorganisms thriving and your compost consistent is to increase the container size.

What will this mean for you? More time to work on your compost pile and less time tending to your compost. If done correctly, it will also save you materials.

The idea of this type of composting is to use the same waste that we use to create a more traditional compost pile, but in a very big vessel or bin. This can work great with grass clippings and leaves. The problem is, that without proper protection, an extended compost pile can be damaged by the elements. This is the reason that our city compost sites are enclosed with big steel walls. The best way to contain your compost is to cover it inside a garbage bin. It might not do wonders to the aesthetic appearance of your yard, but it will definitely do wonders for your composting process.

Shred it!

Composting outdoors at home is ideal for those who live in warm, sunny climates. If your garden is being taken care of, while you are on vacation during the winter months, you can continue your composting program right through the winter.

But if you live in a colder climate, you cannot be sure that your compost will not freeze in the winter. To ensure that it does not, you can shred your compostable materials. Shredding them increases the surface area, increasing air circulation, which lends to the compost’s microbial process. The shreds increase the amount of warmth, they will see.

The final compost, stored inside your home, can be easily collected and used the following spring.

3 Things I Hate About Outdoor Composting In The Winter

The most frustrating thing about winter composting is your inability to turn the pile and access the interior. You can’t add to it nor can you pull out finished compost to use as needed during the cold and snow days of winter.

Here are 3 things I hate about outdoor composting in the winter, but there are ways to make composting in the cold easier on you and your family:

  • You Have To Skip The Weekly Turn!

The number one tip for making your winter composting more bearable is to skip the weekly turning. In fact, skip the monthly turning! In winter, your compost pile should be stored as is —— after you’ve gathered your “harvest.”

An easy way to do this is to set an old aquarium (with water) on top of the pile, which helps keep heat inside of your pile and holds moisture in as well. It also keeps your critters in. Animals will live under snow, as long as they have food and shelter.

Don’t ignore your pile either, just because you can’t turn it. Every once in a while, use a pitchfork from inside the aquarium to check on your compost pile.

  • A Surprise For The South In The Winter!

Trudging out to the compost pile

This is a great way to exercise and might be the only form a person gets these days! All positive. Start off with turning the pile with a pitch fork. This introduces air into the pile and in turn speeds up the composting process. The downside to this is that it leaves you standing in the cold for a while.


If your coffee grounds and vegetable scraps have been sitting in a large bin in the middle of the yard for months on end, you might decide it’s time to fling the contents in the trash and call it quits. However, there are ways to keep critters away from your compost. First, you can build a small bin on the side of your house, away from the main bulk of the compost pile because bugs are less likely to linger there.

However, there are a few simple tips for keeping them out, no matter where you place your compost bin.

Be sure to keep your bin in an area that receives direct sunlight. This will keep the temperature up and will make it difficult for invertebrates to survive in the composting material.

Screens are another good idea. Keep your bin on a screened deck or porch (if feasible) so you can leave the screen door open in warm weather and pest bugs will stay out of your bin and your house.

Placing a thin layer of leaves, dirt, or a few inches of wood chips around the edges of the bin will help to keep the critters from making their way inside.

No space in the compost bin

Frozen compost piles will take longer to decompose when the temperature is below 40 F. And if it gets too cold, you might have to wait until spring.

To prevent this, you can take a few precautions. The prevention of heat loss is key. Just as the body loses heat through the head, you can decrease the rate of compost degradation by wrapping the compost bin.

It is also beneficial to dig a hole in the snow and put the compost bin in it. Cover a bin in a box with a lid, too.

You can also create a simple insulator out of newspaper, a burlap sack, or even a carpet.

To learn more about keeping composting during the winter, read this post.

Winter Composting Made Easy

In the past, most people put their compost heap to sleep for winter, not realizing that cold temperatures actually slow down the composting process, making it perfect for worming your garden in the spring.

Chilling your compost not only wakes it up, but you can help the earthworms too. While they will survive down to about 20 degrees, below that they begin to slow down, essentially hibernating. You can wake them up in the winter by putting a lid on the compost container. Take a sheet of heavy-duty plastic, and cut a hole in the center. You can also add a layer of straw for insulation. Remember the carbon to nitrogen ratio”add decomposing leaves to the heap. This will provide a hospitable environment for earthworms to survive and even lay down eggs, which will help the soil in the spring.

Speaking of eggs, if you have a broody hen, ask her to sit on your compost pile and she will hatch out your new batch of worms in the spring. She will also turn her nest area into manure, perfect for growing greens and root vegetables.

Bokashi Composting

It all started in Japan, when agricultural waste threatened soil fertility and the environment. Research was conducted to find a way to convert human organic waste into organic fertilizer. The research was turned into reality, and bokashi composting was born.

What Is Bokashi Composting?

Bokashi means ‘fermented organic matter’ in Japanese. It is a great way to compost leaves, grass clippings, and leftovers on its own or in combination with worms. You can use your compost as fertilizer for your garden. It is fast, effective, and in many cases, a lot less gross than other methods of composting.

How Does Bokashi Work?

The bokashi system is incredibly simple and easy to use. You use special containers or baskets made from durable materials, such as plastic lined with an inner cloth or polypropylene liner. (Just be careful not to allow the fibers to come into contact with your food scraps. Follow every recipe’s directions.) You are supposed to bury your food scraps (do not soak them) in these containers or baskets overnight.


Throughout the spring, summer, and now fall, you have been adding scraps to a bin of worms. Your worms have been hard at work, converting those scraps into rich, black, organic compost. Who knew you could create compost in your very own home, without the heat and moisture of the outdoors? Because the process of decomposition does not rely on bacteria, it can be completed indoors, in cold weather.

That doesn’t mean that there is no need to be careful when you set up your worm bin. Because less moisture is available to the worms, they have to be more selective about what they consume; this may mean they leave behind whatever they don’t want. You’ll want to keep the worms as happy as possible to keep them working to reduce your trash. In doing so, you’ll be able to get compost without spending money to buy it.