Can You Compost in Winter?

Frosted brown maple leaf

Although composting is peaking in popularity once again as a way to control our kitchen waste and become more eco-friendly. Many of us are complete newbies and have some really valid questions to do with winter composting and whether you can actually compost during the cold winter months.

The process of proper composting relies, in part, upon heat, so you may think that it’s impossible to compost in winter. However, this can’t be further from the truth! In fact, even outdoor composting can continue through the winter months in most places.

In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about composting in the winter, including details on the easiest ways to compost no matter the season! Now, without further ado, let’s dive into winter composting: 


Is Composting In The Winter Possible?

Frozen brown gambel oak leaves on the ground

Yes, it is completely possible to compost during the winter months. Unless you live in an area with extremely cold winters, most composting methods are perfectly viable options. The composting process only stops when the organic material you add to your compost pile reaches freezing temperatures.

However, the composting process naturally generates heat. Meaning, that while the outer layers of your compost piles may freeze if you have harsh winters, the innermost layers of compost will likely continue to decompose.

However, if you’d rather not have to turn compost in the freezing cold, we totally understand. The idea of forking up your compost bin in the dead of winter isn't very appealing to many. Composting indoors is another popular method, and it’s perfect for year-round composting in colder climates.

If you’re low on space or looking for a better, faster way to compost, you can also invest in countertop composting processors. Units such as Pela’s Lomi can easily break down your both your garden waste and your food waste to produce rich, natural compost in as little as two days or less.


 

 


How Do I Compost in the Winter?

Man putting waste on compost bin using a shovel

Winter composting will depend upon where you live, what you’re composting, and how you decide to compost it. Indoor composting bins have a different processing cycle than outdoor bins, and even outdoor bins differ from traditional composting piles.

As the Northern Hemisphere gears up to warm themselves by the fire, now is the perfect time to brush up or learn about seasonal composting practices. Read on to find out how to compost in the winter


Outdoor Composting

Circular wire mesh compost bin in the forest

Outdoor composting is more complex than indoor composting, and your outdoor compost heap or bin need to be prepared for winter. Unlike indoor compost devices, outdoor compost bins or piles are subjected to poor weather conditions and low temperatures. As such, maintaining your outdoor compost bin is far more involved than an indoor bin or device.


Keep Compost Warm

Person putting organic waste to compost bin

One of the most important things to remember about composting is that the process relies upon heat. The warmer the material, the faster the decomposition process will be. Should any material reach freezing point, (32ºF or 0ºC) all decomposition stops. As such, you need to take steps to insulate your winter compost bin against the elements.

So during the summer your compost pile will be doing its thing like clockwork but once you hit the winter months, especially if you experience regular freezing temperatures you may have to consider insulating your compost pile to keep that all important microbial activity, that creates your compost, thriving.

Milder climates or pre-insulated bins can make do with some basic measures. In many cases, —especially if you happen to live on a large property or near a farm—you’ll likely have the materials you’ll need to properly insulate your compost bin.

Simple ways to provide insulation from the winter weather include:

  • Cover your compost with a tarp, old blankets, rugs, fabric, and/or flattened cardboard boxes.
  • Surrounding your compost in insulating materials, such as hay bales.
  • Padding your compost with materials such as mulched leaves, sawdust, or wood chips.

In harsher climates, or if you simply want to have faster compost, it may be necessary to combine some (or all) of these options to have an effect.


Harvest Your Finished Compost

Woman using shovel to get compost dirt from the wooden compost bin

Because the process will slow down in colder temperatures, it’s important to stay on top of your outdoor composting heap. For individuals with limited space, these tips can be essential. Harvest any existing compost in late autumn from your compost pile, before the cold begins to set in. This opens up space for fresh material.


Help the Compost Along

Hand cutting green vegetables using pruning shears to the compost bin

The slower processing of your compost pile during winter in outdoor settings can be somewhat negated by mulching or shredding any materials that are added to the pile. Breaking materials down offers the microorganisms involved in composting to have more surface area to feed off of, increasing their efficiency.

You should also maintain most of the same standards during winter composting. Layer greens and browns, maintain a proper composting ratio, and avoid adding anything that may harm or disrupt the process.

However, when composting in winter, you do not have to turn the pile. In fact, you should not turn the pile in winter, as this will expose the warm inner layers to the cold, likely ending any composting that may have been occurring.


Indoor Composting

Person putting the cover of gray compost bin

Indoor composting is a much simpler process. Because indoor compost is kept in a climate-controlled environment, it doesn’t need to contend with cold temperatures or poor conditions. As such, you have far more control and consistency over compost production, even during the winter months.

Not only is it far easier to maintain a composting schedule when you do it inside your home. You also don't have to deal with the mess of a compost pile or bin. You can maintain the same routine all year round. Unlike outdoor composting when you will chain your routine from summer composting methods to your winter composting routines.

There are a variety of composting solutions that can be used indoors. Some of these are large and bulky, like commercially available compost tumblers, others are much like smaller and compact, like the Lomi.

You may also maintain a traditional compost pile inside a trash bin in a garage. However, in addition to their size, many of these options produce a strong, unpleasant odor and can attract unwanted pests.

One of the simplest ways to compost indoors is by using Pela’s Lomi countertop compost unit. This tiny, powerful machine breaks down food scraps and bioplastics; after less than two days, you’ll have fresh, organic compost. Even in the winter, the process is the same.

All you need to do is break down any large chunks of food waste, add the material to the Lomi, close the lid, and select your composting mode with the press of a button. Afterward, all that’s left to do is wait!

Compost units like Lomi use a combination of heat, grinding, and lots of oxygen. Not only can you use these for your regular kitchen waste like coffee grounds, food scraps, and plastic-free tea bags but to also smaller amounts of plant debris from your garden.


Good Items To Compost in Winter

Person wearing white gloves getting leaf mulch from compost pile

In general, anything that you would compost from spring to fall can be composted in the winter. For indoor composting, no changes will need to be made. However, for outdoor compost heaps or bins in an uninsulated space, you’ll need to be aware of how much slower the process will be. To avoid creating a smelly mess, it’s best to leave the pile undisturbed (except for adding material) after you harvest viable compost in late autumn.

Outdoor compost piles will likely become waterlogged in winter without proper maintenance. This is especially true if you live in a wet climate or an area that experiences a great deal of snowfall. To avoid a sloppy, stinky pile of slop after the springtime thaw, be sure to add a little more brown items than you usually would. Newspapers, wood chips, sawdust, dry leaves, and straw absorb moisture and prevent waterlogging.

To speed up the process, outdoor compost keepers can maintain a small indoor bin. Allowing materials to partially decompose in this indoor space before adding them to the larger compost pile lessens the load on the outdoor compost.


What To Avoid Adding To Winter Compost

Red shovel in cow's manure

As with what to add to an outdoor compost pile in winter, some things shouldn’t be added.

  • A large amount of animal or dairy food waste
  • Animal bones
  • No diseased plants
  • Perennial weeds
  • Animal feces
  • Diapers - even the bio-degradable kind
  • Glass, plastic, or metals.

If you are familiar with composting you'll notice that this list is similar to what you generally shouldn't compost any time of the year. Although, your compost bin during summer composting may be able to take food waste like dairy or meat products. The process slows down during the winter these products won't be composted fast enough and may attract unwanted pests and critters.

Regardless of whether you’re using an indoor or outdoor compost system, it’s important to know that fireplace ash should never be added to compost. In addition to being harmful to the microorganisms responsible for composting, ash that hasn’t fully cooled poses a massive fire risk.

Depending on how and where you keep your bins, you may need to cut back on how much you compost during the winter. You may find you need to cut back on the food scraps, especially if you are noticing a rise in the number of scavengers roaming your garden.


Conclusion

For all of its complexities, composting is a rewarding, environmentally friendly approach to waste management. Regardless of how you choose to compost, a bit of preparation can go a long way.

Lomi presents a revolutionary, year-round solution to composting for homes of any size. With the ability to continually process food scraps and bioplastics into compost, Lomi cuts down on this complexity. You can pre-order Lomi for $49 today; you’ll pay the remaining $450 when units ship in January 2022! Join the wave of excited gardeners taking a step into a greener future with Lomi.