With its wet and chilly weather, winter can be a challenging time to compost. Here are some sins of the bin that you’ll want to avoid to ensure that your compost stays healthy over the winter months.
1. No Home for Your Peelings
It’s chilly outside and you don’t really want to take out the compost. I mean, who wants to dress in layers just to walk outside for a few minutes? When you get out, you quickly head to the bin, dump your compost in, and race back to the house. After a while, you notice that your heap is getting higher. While it may be necessary when the temperatures are frigid, the “dump and run” system isn’t really a good plan for the long run, since adding only wet, green material can lead to a soggy or chilly compost that just keeps on piling up. Bury your green vegetable scraps in “brown” materials like paper and leaves, and you’ll avoid attracting rodents and encourage your compost to decompose well.
2. The Big Chill
If you’re cold outside, chances are your compost bin is too. While a healthy compost will generate its own heat through the decomposition process, very cold temperatures can lead to freezing, especially on the sides and top of the bin. To deal with the big chill, make sure that your compost has enough material in it – add leaves and other items until it’s at least 3 feet by 3 feet, making it harder for the middle of the compost to freeze. Make sure that the bin contains “green” materials such as well-chopped vegetable scraps as well as your fall leaves, because these are necessary to the decomposition process. And most of all, wait! Decomposition often slows down or stops in the winter months, and that’s all right. Soon it will be spring, and the composting process will heat up once again.
3. The Soggy Mess
If you live in a place where rain rather than snow is the dominant winter weather, you may notice that your bin gets a little fragrant in the rainy season. A rotten egg smell means that your compost pile is just too wet. When water fills up the spaces in the bin, there’s less oxygen for your handy local aerobic bacteria to access. That means that anaerobic bacteria are performing the work of decomposition rather than your friendly, not-so-stinky aerobic bacteria. The cure? If you live in a very rainy climate, make sure that you have a weather-proof bin that doesn’t leak too much, or build a roof over your bin. Add materials like sawdust and corn cobs that don’t squish down so that there is some room for air to enter the bin.
There is great information about and plans for compost bins in.
4. Hello Neighbors
In the winter time, compost bins are particularly attractive homes for local animals. They’re cozy, tucked away from the elements, and they’re full of food. Wouldn’t you want to live in a well-stocked, heated pantry?
If you’re finding that your local rats, raccoons, and other critters are visiting your compost pile regularly in the winter months, be sure to bury your food scraps under “brown” materials like newspaper or fall leaves. Avoid placing particularly attractive items like meat and dairy into the bin. If you find that you’re having a real problem, switch to composting vegetables only for a while to help the animals break the habit, since fruit is smellier and more delicious.
As spring returns, your compost bin will get active once again, and many of those winter problems will fade away into your memory. Cultivate good composting practices so that by the time next winter comes, you’ll have a thriving compost pile!
Have you had to deal with any of these winter compost problems?