Wintertime Composting


It’s gotten suddenly cold with a long period of chill that sends the final message that our gardening season is over. And although the active growing season may be done, and the chores list has shortened, there are still things to be done in the garden.

Scioto River

The Big Darby Creek in November

Do you have a compost pile, or another way to produce the black gold of the garden? What happens to it during the winter months?

Composting works on a combination of waste matter, heat, moisture, and the bacterial action that breaks down old vegetable peeling, twigs, grass, leaves, and other things into a friable soil additive that we call humus. In wintertime the greatest change is in the cooler temperatures which slows the rate of decomposition. The winter compost heap will benefit from methods that keep the internal heat going so that the microbial action continues.

Cold Weather Compost

Factors For Winter Composting Action:

  • The pile must be big enough. Nothing smaller than 1 cubic foot for an outside heap.
  • Insulation: try making a straw bale container for your compost pile; cover top with loose leaves; dig into the ground and allow the earth to insulate the pile. Any of these, or a combination will help conserve the heat within your compost.
  • Keep adding fresh waste. Use a pail to collect the kitchen matter and add it in bulk along with coffee grounds, etc.
  • Add heat generating nitrogen, this can be in the form of poultry or horse manure, blood meal, or alfalfa pellets (AkA rabbit food)
  • You can help your pile to work better by chopping or shredding the additions of kitchen waste, etc.
  • Add small amounts of wood ashes from your fireplace to your heap.
  • Try to continue layering “brown” and “green ” layers.
  • Weather permitting, give the bin some watering during winter.
  • Perhaps use a tarp for protection to hold in moisture and heat.
  • Don’t turn the pile over cold weather months, wait until spring.


Dead leaves, straw, newspaper, sawdust, wood chips, are available during winter to make a brown layer and help create air space.


Kitchen scraps, fresh garden waste, coffee grounds, tea bags.

One bad word, but lots of good info ➘

I bought some blood meal on sale this fall, and that can be added to the compost along with the kitchen scraps through the winter months.

I would not attempt a tarp because of the high winds, here; and I think it would interfere with adding to the compost when it is too cold to struggle with loosening a tarp. You have to decide what methods work best for your size yard and situation, but most people can recycle their green kitchen wastes and keep them out of landfills.
Resource Links
Cold Climate Composting
Building A compost Pile

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Ilona Erwin, author

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I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of "Ilona's Reflecting Pool". Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. The work on "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.