Composting in Winter

Yes, it is possible to compost in the winter, even with more than two feet of snow on the ground! It also makes a great excuse to get outside and enjoy a few minutes of fresh air (and sometimes even sunshine!) on frigid winter days.

Sweetgum Horticulture | Boston | Compost Bucket


Here’s how I do it:

I start with a generously-sized compost bucket, as weather conditions sometimes prevent me from taking a trip out to the compost bin every day. The bucket I use is the biggest one that I could find that would fit in a little nook behind the kitchen sink, and more importantly, in the dishwasher. It holds 1.6 gallons of kitchen scraps and is made of stainless steel. A lid is essential if you are not making a compost run every day, but I have never used compostable bags or charcoal filters, and have gotten along fine without mess or odor. I rinse the bucket with a strong jet of hot water every time I empty it, and run it through the dishwasher once a week. The single long handle allows me to hold it by one hand while opening the compost bin with the other, and then I can hang it on the fence post while I add straw.

Catherine Volic | Composting in Winter | Compost Bucket

The compost area is located far enough away from our deck and patio so that the slight earthy odor is not a problem in the summer when we are dining outside, but close enough so that I can dig a path to it through the snow without too much effort.

Sweetgum Horticulture | Organic Gardening |Path to Compost Bin

The compost bin is in the left, and is made of 100% recycled plastic. It features a locking lid to keep out animals. It is important to keep the snow cleared off so that the lid does not get frozen shut. The container on the right holds dry, chopped straw that has been heated to eliminate seeds. I use it as the “brown” material to layer with the kitchen scraps, which comprise the “green” material. I don’t worry too much about ideal ratios of brown to green (meaning carbon to nitrogen)–I simply toss on enough straw to cover up the kitchen scraps that I have just added to the pile.

Sweetgum Horticulture | Boston Vegetable Gardening | Making CompostSweetgum Horticulture | Organic Vegetable Gardening | Making Compost

I also don’t worry about turning the compost while it is still in the bin. When it has filled to the top –usually twice a year, in the spring and in the fall–I empty all the contents onto the ground near the bin. The least composted materials will be at the bottom of the new pile, while the most composted will be on top. I will cover this pile with a few feet of yard waste–stems and leaves of herbaceous perennials. Six months later, before I empty the kitchen compost bin out again, I make room by turning the first pile out of the way. By this time, it is ready to use as compost. Since the compost does not get hot using my hands-off approach, I am careful never to add diseased plant material (that goes in the garbage) or weeds that have gone to seed (those go in a separate area well away from my garden, or they could be set out for pick-up in paper yard waste bags, if your town offers that service).

Of course, if you would like to have the ultimate winter composting experience, and have $400 in your budget for a compost bin, you should invest in a Jora composter. My children and I stayed in a cottage one winter where the owner had one of these in the yard. My son, three years old at the time, could not wait to carry out the bucket of kitchen scraps every day, unlatch the bin, dump the scraps in, latch it up again, and then spin it around to turn the compost. He thought it was the most fun thing ever. Watch the video below to see it in action.


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