Tips For Winter Composting in the Northern US - World's Coolest Rain Gauge Co.

Tips For Winter Composting in the Northern US

Composting in winter in the northern US presents unique challenges but also offers great rewards for those willing to adapt their practices to colder temperatures. Winter composting can continue the cycle of turning kitchen scraps and yard waste into valuable soil amendments, even as the garden rests under a blanket of snow. This blog post will guide you through the essentials of successful winter composting, from understanding the process to practical tips for keeping your compost active through the cold months.

Understanding Composting in Winter

Composting relies on microorganisms to break down organic matter into humus, the nutrient-rich end product. While these microorganisms are less active in cold weather, with the right conditions, they can continue to work throughout winter. The key is to maintain sufficient heat, moisture, and aeration within the compost pile to support microbial activity.

Benefits of Winter Composting

1. Reducing Waste: Winter composting helps reduce kitchen waste, which is especially beneficial during the holiday season when food waste is at its peak.

2. Maintaining Momentum: By continuing to compost through winter, you avoid the spring rush to remove accumulated waste and can start the growing season with fresh compost.

3. Insulating the Microbes: A properly maintained winter compost pile can act as an insulator, keeping the core warm and active even when temperatures drop.

How to Compost Successfully in Winter

1. Location, Location, Location

Choose a spot for your compost pile or bin that is protected from wind but still accessible in snow. The south side of a building is ideal because it receives more sunlight, helping to keep the pile warmer.

2. Size Matters

A larger compost pile retains heat better. Aim for at least 3 feet in height and width. This size helps maintain the internal heat necessary for decomposition.

3. Balance Your Greens and Browns

The right mix of green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials is crucial for composting efficiency. In winter, you might find an abundance of browns, like fallen leaves. Store extra leaves in the fall to add to your compost throughout the winter. Kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells are excellent green materials to continue adding.

4. Insulate Your Pile

Covering your compost with a thick layer of straw, leaves, or even a compost cover can help retain heat. Think of it as putting a winter coat on your compost pile.

5. Turn Less Frequently

While aeration is important, turning your compost too often in winter can release the heat trapped inside. Limit turning to once every few weeks or when the temperature in the core of the pile significantly drops.

6. Monitor Moisture Levels

Your compost should remain as moist as a wrungout sponge. Snow and ice can contribute to the moisture level, but you may need to add water if your compost starts to dry out, especially during dry, windy weather.

7. Be Patient

Decomposition slows down in colder temperatures, so don’t be discouraged if your compost doesn’t seem to be breaking down as quickly as it does in warmer months. Patience is key.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Freezing: If your compost pile freezes, don't worry. Freezing and thawing can actually help break down materials more quickly once temperatures rise.

Odors: If your compost starts to smell, it might be too wet or lack aeration. Adjust by adding more browns and turning the pile to introduce air.

Pests: Keep your compost covered to deter pests. Avoid adding meat, dairy, or fatty foods that attract animals.

Advanced Tips for the Enthusiastic Composter

Hot Composting: For those looking to actively compost all winter, consider a hot composting method, which involves carefully managing your pile to maintain higher temperatures.

Vermicomposting: Worm bins can be a great indoor alternative, turning kitchen scraps into compost without worrying about outdoor temperatures.

Caution: Indoor food recyclers are newly popular kitchen appliances that grind up and dehydrate food scraps but a recent article in Guardian cautions that although these devices are often marketed as composters, the end product is not the result of a biological process and can mold and/or attract pests when placed directly in the garden. 


Composting in winter may require a bit more effort and attention, but the benefits are substantial. By following these tips, you can maintain a productive compost pile even in the coldest months. Not only does this practice support a year-round cycle of waste reduction and soil improvement, but it also prepares you for a successful start to the gardening season come spring. Remember, the key to successful winter composting is understanding the process, choosing the right location, maintaining the balance of materials, and adjusting practices to accommodate the colder weather. With patience and persistence, winter composting can become a rewarding part of your sustainable living routine.

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