what to do with a frozen compost pile?

mrobbins(6b - Brooklyn)February 13, 2010

I thought I was doing it right. Last June, put a Gardener's Supply Deluxe Pyramid Composter in the back of our urban yard, where it is shaded by a tall (summer-dense) oak to the south and a sparse medium-size catalpa to the north. Filled the bottom with about a foot of old potting soil that had been sitting in a large container and was full of earthworms. Added veggie scraps sliced small alternating with oak leaves shredded fine in the leaf-shredder. Poked a few holes with an aerator tool.

Did not check with a thermometer, but pile did not seem to break down much, so we added more veggie material in the fall. Then the weather turned cold faster than usual in Metro NYC, and the pile froze. We stopped adding stuff to it.

Anything we can do to save this pile? And since nature's having a good laugh at this city person trying to compost, feel free to join in.

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jonas302(central mn 4)

No big deal at all just add until its full and wait till spring

Nice hot winter compost piles are the things I dream of but never really had yet maybe next year..

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 10:32AM
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Yeah, mine is frozen as well. No big deal. Except maybe the loss of your worm friends.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 5:04PM
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There is not enough info given to lead me to make a suggestion.

1) What is the size of the pile? (ie 3' round and 24" high)
2) Do you have a compost thermometer?
3) Have you ever had a hot pile, and what do you consider a hot pile? (A core temp of 130 to 160F, say)

Comment: there is no advantage to putting old potting soil in the bottom of any compost pile. It is just material that freezes instead of being an active ingredient in the composting process.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 5:37PM
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greenmulberry(5-Iowa City)

My compost pile freezes every winter, I just keep adding stuff, it picks up again in the spring.

What I usually do, and this is just my habit, is in early summer I turn my pile by removing the wire barrier I use to enclose it and setting it next to my original pile, then I shovel the pile into the moved ring. That puts all the new stuff that was on the top, at the bottom of the new pile, and I harvest some finished compost that was on the bottom at this time.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 11:46AM
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toxcrusadr Clay Soil(Zone 6a - MO)

Yep, frozen piles are the norm in the northern latitudes. The freeze-thaw cycles actually do help break down fibrous structures, and the pile will decompose faster when it warms up because of it. As soon as you can, turn it, let it finish by itself and start a new pile.

I would have used that potting soil directly in the garden or blended it with finished compost, but no great harm done.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 12:08PM
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Earthworms are not major digesters of the material in a compost bin, some worm species do very well in a vermicomposter but that is a different method. If you have a lot of earthworms in your compost material that is an indication that the material is too wet, because earthworms need a pretty moist environment to work in, and if the compost material was that wet it will freeze and that is also why that compost did not heat up.
While the average temperature around here has been in the mid 20's all winter my compost piles are still working, the bacteria are still active and the material has not, except for the edges, even begun to freeze.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 8:33AM
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sfallen2002(z5 IA)

No big huhu.. let it thaw come spring and you'll be back in business. The main thing here is that you HAVE a compost pile! Keep up the good work!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 10:23AM
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Don't stop adding to your frozen piles. Compost freezes when it gets cold enough. The composting starts up again in the spring. It's normal.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2010 at 9:35AM
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