We know composting is good for the garden and the environment, but did you know you can save food scraps for composting all year-round—even in cold climate? I’ll show you my simple method, which is actually easier than summer composting. And the best part? You will have a lot more rich compost for your summer garden.
If you’re new to composting, this explains (in simple terms) why it’s smart and essential: Composting 101: Slow & Fast Methods.
A Smart, Time-Saving Winter Composting Method
NEW! Click play to hear How to Keep Composting in Winter
If you have an Amazon Alexa device, you can enable our Flash Briefing to hear new stories every week.
Compost is a great and beautiful thing and while I treasure it for the garden, I don’t wish to make composting my life’s work.
I live in a cold climate (Ontario, Canada) and have always kept my food scraps for composting all year-round. I’ll show you how I keep it really simple, fast, and efficient, without any stinky mess.
If you’re looking for more tasks you can get done in the fall garden (to make winter and spring better): The Most Important Fall Garden Tasks.
Quick Compost Review
Composting is a process where micro- and macroorganisms (bacteria, worms, and more) decompose natural materials (including leaves, fruits, and vegetables) into earthy matter. This earthy matter is compost and we add it to our garden beds to enrich the plants.
You can read a thorough description of the process here or keep reading (below) for the quick overview.
What can we add to the compost pile?
To keep it simple, we divide the materials into two camps.
|1. Carbon Suppliers
Mostly dry, porous materials
aka ‘the browns‘
|2. Nitrogen Suppliers
Fresh, moist materials
aka ‘the greens‘
Ratios matter. The research shows that a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 30:1 is optimum. University Extension offices have excellent research online if you would like to learn more. But that can be hard to translate into the amounts in the actual greens and browns you have on hand.
The simplest way I have found (with good results) is to do this:
For every pound of green materials (nitrogen suppliers), add some browns (carbon suppliers) to get the consistency right.
I know that’s not really helpful when you’re new to it, but most of us do it by instinct, not by any measured ratio. I know by sight when the greens are getting slimey, that more browns are needed. The aim is to keep the pile moist, not dry or soggy, and living with microbes.
The good news is, you can wing it and still get good compost.
How it Works
During warmer months, it is ideal to turn the pile 1-2 times per week. This aerates the pile, offering fresh oxygen to the aerobic bacteria that are critical to this process. In cold winter, the process will stall, but it resumes during thaws.
In optimum conditions, the pile naturally heats, caused by the bacterial activity, and the various organisms convert the materials to earthy compost. This can take weeks or months.
Because compost is so valuable, and it’s a total bummer to send food waste to landfills. If you have long winters like we do here, that’s a lot of potential compost wasted!
How to Keep Compost in Winter
Winter composting is like summer composting but in slow motion. In the coldest weather, the process simply stalls and the food scraps freeze. When temperatures rise above freezing, the process resumes. If your winter is long like mine, the volume of food scraps is considerable and definitely worth saving.
Winter Composting Goals
- Save kitchen waste year-round, diverting it from landfill.
- Avoid fruit flies in the kitchen.
- Keep a winter compost pile without attracting wild animals.
- Minimum effort.
1. Set Up Winter Compost Bin
- I use a galvanized trash can with a tight-fitting lid: here’s the galvanized steel one I like at Amazon: Garbage Can (20 Gallon).
Unless you have bears or super-determined raccoons, this should keep prying hands away. Plus, with a locking lid, you can roll the can to turn the compost pile.
- Add a foot (12″) of browns (carbon-rich goodies including straw and/or newsprint and/or dead leaves) to the bottom of the trash can.
- Keep a giant bag of extra browns nearby to add to the bin during the winter. As mentioned, for every pound of greens (kitchen waste), add a bunch more of browns.
- Keep the bin somewhere where you can easily access it during snowy weather (without having to shovel a path, if possible).
- Keep the lid on and, if possible, choose a location where wild animals cannot access it.
2. Collect Kitchen Waste
- The greens (nitrogen-rich goodies) include scraps from fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags (no paper or staples, though). No processed foods, meat, or dairy.
3. Freeze The Scraps
I do this step (all year-round) because I don’t like the stink of keeping a scrap bin in the kitchen and this avoids fruit flies (which I otherwise get year-round).
- Super Lazy Method: Keep one heavy-duty freezer bag dedicated to kitchen scraps (greens) in your freezer.
- Mildly Lazy Method: Chop or blend your scraps into small bits and pieces. Then place in a heavy duty freezer bag in your freezer.
Small pieces break down faster.
4. Add Frozen Scraps To Winter Bin
- When the freezer bag is full, add the contents to your winter compost bin.
- The scraps will freeze and thaw, depending on the temperatures. Decomposition continues during warm spells.
- Remember to add more browns to bin each time you add greens. A warm spell without enough browns will cause the materials to ferment. You don’t want that.
- Wash out the freezer bag and reuse it over and over again.
- During thaws, when temperatures stay above zero for a few days, check the bin. You can roll it or use a shovel to combine the greens and browns.
If we get a really warm spell, I keep the lid off until freezing temperatures return.
6. Spring Time
- In spring, as soon as weather permits, pour the contents of the winter bin into your regular composter or compost pile. Add more browns if needed. The composting materials should be slightly moist (naturally) due to the moisture in the green materials. If it seems dry, you can water when turning the pile.
And that’s it! That’s winter composting.
It’s super easy when the weather stays consistently cold and everything freezes. It’s just the warm spells where you need to check on it.
With many months of winter, that’s a lot of food scraps!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛