Composting Success During Teton Valley Winters
It’s a question we get often, “How do I compost in the winter?” And a fair question, to be sure! While our little bacterial foragers may slow down in the cold, dark months, it’s not to say that they cease to exist all together. You can still compost, keeping in mind a few key points: insulate, find the sun, keep turning and convenience. As it is with the summer months, even in the winter, the more you can interact with your pile, you’ll know what it needs. Though, above all things – keep it convenient!!
Below you will find some of our best tips to help you keep that usable kitchen waste from unnecessarily ending up in the landfill, even during the winters of Teton Valley.
The biggest advantage you can give your pile is to keep it well insulated. Fall is your ally here; keep a stock pile of leaves, dry lawn clippings, straw or other carbon materials. These are going to help keep the top of your pile covered, keeping centralized heat from escaping at a slower rate. You can even cover the top of the leaves and pile with a tarp, burlap or other heavy cloth material, or cardboard as further insulation. As the winter deepens, the pile will begin to slow down, cooling and freezing from the edges in, so further insulation of straw bales around the perimeter of the bin can help here. By adding only nitrogen materials (ie kitchen waste) to the center of the pile, the pile will continue to build heat. Once spring has arrived, the addition of carbon materials will then come back into play.
- Find the Sun:
Depending on where your bin is located (“location, location, location!”), and where weather finds its way into your yard, you will help your pile to retain heat by giving it as much natural sunlight as possible. If your bin has plenty of sunlight, it will passively hold on to heat naturally. As best you can, find as convenient and sunny a spot for your bin before the snow flies.
- Keep Turning:
- It may not seem possible, with the addition of some storms bringing one to fifteen inches of snow to the valley floor, to be able to still turn your pile. Yet, if you’ve been able to implement the first two points above, you should still be able to get a little movement going. Just like summer, if you are able to turn your pile at all, the benefits will be huge come spring. By reintroducing oxygen, nutrients and habitable surfaces for your microbes, the heat will continue to build, albeit slower than summer, yes, but still enough to keep the center warm and productive. If you are unable to turn your pile in the winter, no worries. The pile may go dormant, but you can fire it right back up with a good turning in the spring and re-balancing your carbon to nitrogen ratio – e.g. if it smells, add more carbon sources; if it is too dry add more nitrogen-rich food scraps or spring weeds.
A final nod to convenience: Make it priority! Whatever your system is, keeping it as convenient as possible will ensure your winter success. The snow and moisture are great for your pile, as the moisture and the nitrogen materials are what generate the most winter heat, but having a simple and convenient system is king! This may look a little different than summer. Try keeping a couple – or three, five gallon buckets with lids in your garage this winter. They are a great holding place for your scraps until you are able to shovel your way to your bin on that first sunny day (see how I use five gallon buckets here)! Good Luck, and as always, Happy Composting!