Composting in winter

Composting is a common activity for gardeners, and with the right care, the compost pile can be productive during the winter. It’s the activity of microorganisms that decompose the material and turn it into beautiful compost, so we need to help them along.

Kelly Feehan is an extension community environmental educator at the University of Nebraska. She says if your compost pile is decomposing and generating heat, there are some things you can do to help maintain the warmth.

"Such as covering the pile with a deep layer of leaves or straw. Some people will cover their compost pile with black tarp because that will absorb heat but it can also keep out excess moisture from winter rains or heavy wet snows," says Feehan. "You can take black plastic bags and fill them with tree leaves and place them around the outside of the bin to kind of provide some insulation from the side as well. Other people will use hay or straw bales to do that."

It’s not a good idea to turn the compost pile in winter because it could lose some of that heat. However, she says you can continue adding layers of material to it.

"And that’s a mixture of carbon or brown, dry material. We have a lot of dry tree leaves, especially if you collect them and store them. And, nitrogen, or the green wet material," she says. "So, for that nitrogen or damp material, you can add kitchen wastes so the vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, coffee grounds. You could also add manure, horse manure, cattle manure, poultry manure. That would be a source of nitrogen as well."

For the best results a compost pile should measure at least three-feet-by-three-feet and no more than five-feet-by-five-feet. If it’s too small it will have trouble staying warm and larger piles hold too much water or don’t allow enough air to the center.

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