Winter composting in cold climates

cathyd_gardener(5)December 15, 2008

Do you all still add to your piles in the winter? I mean the dead cold of winter, where it is too cold to turn? Do you have problems with critters?

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Our pile is an ongoing pile that receives kitchen waste during winter. Leaves or straw cover a layer of kitchen waste. In spring when thinks warm up, the pile starts going and you can see it drop in the middle.

We have mice but they are not an issue for us.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 1:12PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I do continue to add to my pile all winter long.

I don't necessarily have a problem with critters... but that depends upon how you define problem.

We will have an occasional raccoon or possum, but our dogs are fairly quick to chase them off, such that its not a recurring problem.

And we will see mice or chipmunks, but as long as they stay outside, they don't bother me much either.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 1:39PM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

Well....while I have a dog, she's pretty stupid. When she sees a critter in the yard she will chase it so hard that she'll run into things.

True story: Went to let the dog out a few months ago, she spied a cat that was back by our compost bin (looking for mice I imagine). She charged that cat so hard and focused that she ran her leg over the corner of the concrete block that was somewhat sticking out of the compost bin. She ripped her leg open, had to have stitches and cost us $450 to the vet!

We've seen racoons and possums in our yard at night so all the kitchen waste goes into the Earth Machine until spring when I can bury and maintain it better.

I dumped some of the neighbors pumpkins in my big bins a few weeks ago and covered/buried them with leaves. Something has uncovered them, ate small round holes in them and left eaten and uneaten seeds right outside the bin. No matter how many times I recover them, in a few days they'll be exposed with the leaves all pushed aside.

Since the temp here today is 10F - they can stay exposed now and unless it gets up to 30F or better, they'll stay that way. :-)


    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 1:51PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I love hearing dog stories, though I'm sorry your dog got hurt chasing critters.

My dog is a champion mole, mouse and chipmunk catcher. She may have been a cat in her past life.

She will chase mice back and forth between the compost pile and wood pile. She will stand at the log pile and stare, on point for hours waiting for them to come out. If they do try to run, she pounces on them. And she does catch them.

She will also chase chipmunks into the rain gutter and she will wait for them to come out. If I go over and wiggle the gutter or bang on it, they will scurry out and right into Mabel's mouth.

She will also find a mole hole and stalk them pretty much the same way she stalks mice and chipmunks, except she finds a mole mound and waits quietly until she sees movement.

My yard isn't critter free, but Mabel does a good job of keeping them to a minimum. I also think I would have those same critters whether I had a compost pile or not.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 2:57PM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

Argh! I hate hearing about smart dogs when mine is so lame! Heh - get it.....lame.... LOL.


    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 3:20PM
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I have not done much with the compost piles in the winter months previous to this year. The 2008 leaves fell off the trees about four or five weeks later than average.

Right now I have eight mesh piles, some piles are compost and some just dry shredded leaves. I take the core temp. of each pile every day if possible. Today with the bit of freezing rain, the temp won't be taken. Three piles were started when the ambient temp was around freezing. I try to run hot piles, so a pile is at least 4' diameter and 12" high the day it is begun. My preference is for the pile height to be 24". Coffee grounds (30#s min from SB dumpster) and personal fruit and veggie waste are added to the core of whatever pile seems the hottest.

Core temps don't rise to the 165F temp that summer can produce. Around 130F seems to be the best core temp than can be produced in the colder winter. My zone 6 winters usually don't get below 0F.

So far the winter composting experience has been interesting. A bit more work than the other three seasons, but one can do more cold weather composting than I first realized.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 3:36PM
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I just turned my piles last night and early this morning. It was in the law 50's here after snow and 20's, and it is going back down again. They were steaming big time. Do not let anyone know but all food waste, along with coffee grounds (I pick up each day from a bagel shop and a coffee house) along with leaves, horse manure, shredded office paper and all paper and cardboard from the house (bathroom dixie cups dissappear, it is so cool).

I turn whenever the temps are above 40 or so degrees.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 6:04PM
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I scrap the snow off the cover of my compost piles and add the kitchen waste regularly during the winter, even yesterday when the air temperature was 15 and the wind was blowing at 40 MPH. Since I do not have more than just enough water in my mix my compost does not freeze, and in the center of the pile the bacteria are still at work, evidenced by steam rising in the cold air.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2008 at 7:00AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

Water is not the only that freezes when it gets cold out.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2008 at 7:25AM
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-smirk- Last year when a poster commented about "winter" composting one member jumped all over her, pointing out that "winter" didn't begin until Dec 21st. My how we've come a long way!

-serious- In my climate, there is no way I can actively do any composting. It is currently -26C/-15F and has been like that for a week. All I do is take kitchen scraps out and throw them in an empty tumbler and toss some dry shredded leaves on top. Even the dry shredded leaves are frozen, I can feel the ice crystals mixed in with them so the malarkey about having too much water in it is a crock, even materials at a very low RH will freeze.

No rodent issue with the tumblers. This is the first winter trying this method, will see how it works out in the spring.


-humor- No fruit flies/gnats in the tumbler, moisture must be correct!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2008 at 8:52AM
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val_s(z5 central IL)

Lloyd - I love! this new way you're posting. Don't be surprised if it catches on. Some of us are not just leaf thieves :-)


    Bookmark   December 16, 2008 at 9:16AM
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Of course, whether compost freezes or not is kind of a moot point, really. I mean the carrots don't quit being peeled and the lettuce doesn't quit shedding its limp outer leaves just because the thermometer is sinking to new lows, right?

It's not like you're going to be able to bring yourself to put a putrescible in the trash or down the disposal, so there you are. Winter composting? Have you got a choice?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 9:55AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

My personal issue is tolerating the weather myself. I hate to be cold. We had an inch of snow yesterday followed by freezing rain overnight. Though the temp is 30F now, the world is an ice skating rink. I picked up a bucket of UCGs yesterday at the coffee shop, but they'll be sitting in my garage until it's warmer and the ice melts.

As I sit here in my family room, I'm wearing thermals under my jeans and turtleneck, and fur lined hoodie...

If I were you, Lloyd, I'd be inside until April or May. Ever consider moving to Florida?


    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 11:21AM
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At work, must be brief.

Alligators! :-(


    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 11:31AM
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Cold weather composting and critter problems.


Here is a link that might be useful: Pests not thought of!

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 11:58AM
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north53 Z1b MB(zone 1b Canada)

Annpat, that's my feeling exactly. I may not be composting during the winter, but I'm certainly collecting compostables. I just keep dumping vegetable scraps on the pile all winter. For a few days in the spring it'll look like an eyesore, but it very quickly shrinks out of sight. I've saved leaves to pile on top to hide the mess.
We have to make paths about the yard for the dog anyway, so making a path to the compost pile doesn't make any difference.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 3:11PM
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We have nearly 2 feet of snow on the ground. My compost pile is really just garden waste and coffee grounds, so now that the snow is so deep, I just let the grounds pile up on the back porch. My true composters live in the chicken coop and I bring scraps and water out there every day, regardless of the weather. I too can't stand the cold, but it only takes a few minutes and I cannot bare the thought of wasting my scraps. Kay.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 7:21AM
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The weather here: a high today of 26 apparently. Snow on the ground, with that covered by ice. Ice on all the trees.

I crunched my way over to my new compost pile with more stuff for it. This pile is covered by cardboard and thick thick sheets of newspapers. Keeps some but of course not all water out.

Had to use a pitchfork to peel the cardboard back, as the outward-facing sides were frozen stiff.

But the inner layers were wet and pliable compost pile was gently steaming! In fact, I saw insects resting on the inner sides of the cardboard.

Very, very exciting. Got so excited that I invited my husband to put on boots & make the trek to see the pile. Imagine my surprise when he turned down the invitation LOL.

Anyway, a long way of saying I'll be adding to the CP, to the new beds and to new piles all winter long.

    Bookmark   December 20, 2008 at 6:28PM
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"Very, very exciting. Got so excited that I invited my husband to put on boots & make the trek to see the pile."

Wow. For a minute, I thought he accepted.
You know, willingly. Unlike my former husband, may he rest in peace, whom I had to hold a gun to his head to get him to visit the pile.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2008 at 12:03AM
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"Unlike my former husband, may he rest in peace, whom I had to hold a gun to his head to get him to visit the pile."

I must tell you, that sentence is producing a rather odd mental image LOL.

Everything's totally froze here, but I'm planning to check out the pile later. Need to empty the compost bucket again plus have used cat litter....should be interesting trying to get back to the house from where the pile is located. I'll bet I could slide all the way back. The garden, in fact the property and the entire street, slope down, ending at a creek way down in the park. Driving is interesting: the road is a dead end, one-way deal with culverts on either side. In fact, last night some people got lost, came down our road, and got stuck halfway into a frozen-solid culvert trying to get back out. Last year, one of our contractors couldn't get into the drive. Instead of successfully making the turn, he ended up sliding all the way down to the house at the end of the road, where he then got stuck. So today, if there's cars trying to go both ways, doing the usual -- which is pulling way over right to the edge of a culvert -- might prove interesting.

But those are stories for another forum - probably the one on bog gardens, since I'm pretty sure there are underground streams here, all sloping down to the pond. Even now, with the temp. at 19 degrees, I see lines of bright green grass, where the ice and snow are probably semi-melted.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2008 at 11:23AM
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