composting in winter

finchelover(5b-6)December 27, 2011

How do you all save your stuff for composting,place over the frozen stuff or keep in large buckets till ground thaws

I want to this right this winter

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robertz6

I assume you are referring to 'greens' when you say stuff.

You have a number of options:

1) Put it in the largish compost pile center; if the core is 120F or higher.

2)Put it into a ground pit along with browns, helps if you've already dug the hole in the fall. I top off with compost/leaves, then dirt, then a round patio stone.

3) Save veggie and fruit wastes in the refrig or freezer.

That is what I do; others will probably have additional ideas.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 4:04PM
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Lloyd

I have used three basic methods for winter composting but two are very similar.

1) Leave the kitchen material in small containers to freeze over the winter and then in the spring once it has thawed, build a pile or add to tumbler. Pros to this is that it is easy to just place the containers outside in the winter to freeze. Cons to this is that it is messy and smelly when it thaws out in the spring.

2) Add the kitchen material to an empty bin and cover with suitable amount of browns (it will freeze). Pros to this is that when the material thaws out in the spring, it starts to compost all by itself (no intervention). Cons to this is that I have to take the material out every few days and some days it is a might unpleasant temperature wise. Minus 25C is not unusual here. Rodents may also be an issue if they can get into the bin.

3) Add the material to an empty tumbler and add suitable browns after each contribution to cover. The tumbler is not turned due to the previous stuff freezing so it is similar to #2. Pros to this is that once it thaws out in the spring it is ready to tumble. Being in the tumbler it thaws out earlier than a bin. Same cons as #2 except no rodent issue.

In my climate there is no easy way to actively compost over our winter, it is just too darn cold. I have considered using bales as an insulator but I haven't gotten around to it to see if it would prevent freezing.

This year I am doing #1 and #3. If it is too cold out to trudge to the compost area, I just put the kitchen stuff into the veranda to freeze. When I bring stuff home from work or from friends, I generally stop off at the tumblers and chuck it in with some leaves for cover.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 5:39PM
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finchelover(5b-6)

thanks for your answers. I have an open 3x6 square when I went out today at noon it all was frozen solid so that's why I wonder most with open area do

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 6:48PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

The average ambient air temperature here has been in the mid 30's (35) and neither of my compost piles have started to freeze, yet. What I have found over the years is that if the material in a compost pile is made too wet it will freeze. If the material is wet just enough, not too much, the bacteria will be able to work and generate enough heat to keep the pile from freezing.
I'm not sure what the internal temperatures of my compost piles are right now but they are quite warm.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 6:49AM
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vermontkingdom(4a)

I have three bins in a line with each 4 x 4 x 4 made out of wooden pallets. I built mini hoop houses over each to keep the rain and snow off. Each is also lined with barriers and covers to keep rodents out. In the winter, I use my middle bin as the active one. The other two act to insulate the middle one from the extreme cold air temperature. I put all our kitchen waste and paper towels in a five gallon bucket and empty it when full into the middle bin. I created a huge pile of shredded leaves in the fall and I use a couple of five gallon containers of leaves each time to cover the kitchen mixture. The pile is also freqently moistened with urine and periodically I put a five gallon container of horse manure in there. The temperature yesterday morning in that pile was a little over 100 degrees F. The temperature tonight is supposed to be below 0 F so I know I'm now in a losing position. By the middle of January the pile normally freezes completely and I'll keep adding stuff but will wait until April for active decomposition to resume.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 7:48AM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

I add kitchen scraps to the pile/bin all winter. I keep a 1-gal ice cream bucket with lid in the kitchen. When that gets full I open the back door and dump it into a 5-gal bucket (with lid and brick to keep out critters). When that gets full, on a warm day when it's thawed, I trudge to the bin and dump it in along with a generous amount of fall leaves from the adjacent leaf bin. The 5-gal bucket is a great way to avoid winter weather.

The freezing and thawing will begin to break down the veggie matter, and it will compost slowly whenever it's not frozen solid.

In about March I'll turn that pile, and start a new one with spring cleanup materials. By the end of planting season in May or June that winter pile is ready to use.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 10:33AM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I add stuff to the pile all winter long. It freezes and thaws and refreezes etc. etc. Then is the spring after totally thaws, its starts composting again.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2012 at 7:23PM
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louisianagal(z7bMS)

I read somewhere that someone was putting their household food scraps in a blender and pouring the liquid on the compost pile. One could also pour that in a 5 gallon bucket for less frequent trips to the compost pile.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 10:37AM
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annpat(5-Maine)

I empty my indoor compost container into my outdoor bins in the same way, and with the same regularity, as I do in the summer. I compost as a way to manage household waste. I can't imagine storing it first in a pre-pile containment.

I bet my bins aren't frozen solid in their core right now, but they're pretty close. I'll flip my pile in the spring and use it as is---anything too recognizable gets tossed back into the new bin.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2012 at 3:34PM
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compogardenermn(4- Twin Cities, MN)

I took the temperature of the center of one of my bins last weekend- 127 degrees! It had been around 0 degrees air temp prior to. If the piles are big enough, they will self insulate and start cooking.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 12:28PM
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robertz6

Yes, a large outdoor pile resting on the ground can still retain a warm core even with long periods of freezing weather. My 4' by 8' by 24" high pile was over 100F in the core for four weeks. My lack of a shredder this year to finely shred my leaves may have been a benefit. The larger size pieces led to more gradual temp changes, and more delay before the core freezes.

As I understand it, the relationship between speed of breakdown and core temp is not always a proportional one. So while a core temp of 130F will break down much quicker than a core of 90F, a core temp of 160F will NOT break down materials quicker than a core temp of 130F.

In the two years of composting in a tumbler, winter months were unproductive. Now with my large mesh bins, composting can still be continued in the colder months (0-40F Zone 6), even if somewhat harder.

While my small basement freezer can hold some wastes for spring, it helps to have pre-dug some holes for burying fruit and veggie wastes in winter. When a surplus of materials is ready, some leaves/compost goes in, then the greens, than more compost/leaves, a topping of soil, than a paving stone to mark the spot.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 1:31PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Just a quick note from "Teaming with Microbes":

"Never let a compost pile get over 155* F (68* C) as this will start to burn off carbon."

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 4:01PM
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Lloyd

That must be a typo...composting at any temperatures "burns" off carbon.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 4:16PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Well, I dunno. It's an exact quote on Page 135.

Maybe composting "breaks down" the long carbon chains (like in cellulose and lignin) into shorter carbon chains, but doesn't "burn off" the carbon until 155* F is reached. I'm not a chemist though, so it's just a guess :-)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 4:37PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

For those who might not know, carbon-based cellulose makes up the walls of plant cells. Cellulose is what gives plant cell walls their strength.

We eat cellulose all the time, like when we eat salads. Our stomachs can't digest cellulose itself, but the cellulose aids in "peristalsis," the movement of food through our digestive tract. It's why salads are often the first course in a meal.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 6:03PM
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Lloyd

Well if it is an exact quote I would hesitate to use that document as a reliable source of information.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 6:27PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

"Teaming with Microbes" is a popular book on Amazon.com . It's very reliable :-)

On Amazon it's ranked Number 40 in books in the "Gardening and Horticulture" category, and Number 30 in the category of Sustainable Living.

The full title is "Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web."

I've learned lots from it. Love the book :-)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 7:25PM
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Lloyd

"It's very reliable"

Not in this case it seems.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 7:29PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Well, the book has two authors: one is "a member of the Garden Writers of America Hall of Fame and has been writing a weekly column for the "Anchorage Daily News' since 1977."

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:11PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

...And the foreword of the book is written by world-renowned soil scientist Elaine Ingham :-)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:12PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

Perhaps it's possible that this is a very bad typo and what was intended to be said was that a too hot pile burns off nitrogen?

I see a reference to that happening in the linked web page:

"It is also possible to err on the opposite end of the scale and make a pile with too much nitrogen. This heap will heat very rapidly, become as hot as the microbial population can tolerate, lose moisture very quickly, and probably smell of ammonia, indicating that valuable fixed nitrogen is escaping into the atmosphere. When proteins decompose their nitrogen content is normally released as ammonia gas. Most people have smelled small piles of spring grass clippings doing this very thing. Ammonia is always created when proteins decompose in any heap at any C/N. But a properly made compost pile does not permit this valuable nitrogen source to escape."

The book *is* very good though...

Here is a link that might be useful: Composting

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:13PM
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Lloyd

I'm happy people enjoy the book, I haven't read it. I have no doubt ralleia is correct that this is just a really, really bad editorial error as anyone who has more than backyard knowledge of composting knows nitrogen preservation is one of the most important considerations. Furthermore, most people know that the by-products of successful aerobic composting are carbon dioxide, water vapour and heat. Loss of carbon is not a major concern at any temperature. (unless it catches on fire, that would be bad). ;-)

Lloyd

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:28PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

It might be a typo, but I don't think so. Both the Fahrenheit figure *and* the Celcius figure are given in the book:

155 F (68 C)

Here's a longer quote from this fine book:

"You have to monitor compost piles. It is advisable to keep a pile between 140F (60C) and 150F (65C) for at least a few days because at this thermophilic temperature, pathogenic microbes in the compost are killed. At 150F (65C) weed seeds are also destroyed. Never let a compost pile get over 155F (68C) as this will start to burn off carbon."

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:29PM
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Lloyd

I don't know how to put it any plainer, it is either an editorial typo or the authors do not know of which they write. (And even substituting nitrogen for carbon they are still not entirely correct.)

Carbon is lost from all aerobic composting processes at any temperature.

Lloyd

P.S. Sorry to finchelover for hijacking your thread.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:41PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

Lloyd, I *HAVE* caught the compost on fire before, but that was by the addition of not-quite-cold wood ashes rather than nitrogen wastes. :)
Thank goodness the birdbath water was handy!

Kris

--Zoysia--the typo I was suggesting was substituting "carbon" for "nitrogen," rather than a temperature typo. Maybe we can shoot off an email to the author for clarification/correction.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:54PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Thanks Ralleia. That's a very interesting quote. I guess we need a chemist, biologist, or soil scientist to chime in here and clarify things. Surely, there are at least several dozen of these scientists who will eventually read this thread. Hopefully they won't be shy about writing :-)

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:56PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

This may provide a hint about the carbon controversy:

From "Teaming with Microbes":

"....the ideal C:N ratio...is somewhere around 25:1 to 30:1. If you have too much carbon, nitrogen is quickly used up and the decay process slows. If you have too much nitrogen, organisms snatch it up and then carbon is vented to the atmosphere or mixed with water and washed out of the pile. But at the ideal ratio, things go fast and decay is complete."

One other precaution the authors have:

"It is best to keep the compost pile between 104 and 131 F after the initial thermophilic run-up to 150 F."

So they say keep the pile between 140 and 150 for the first few days (and never above 155), then let the pile continue decomposing at a more moderate temp between 104 and 131.

I'm just the messenger, not a scientist :-)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 3:05PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

I still think that the authors meant to say that NITROGEN is vented to atmosphere. :-P

:) :) :)

I love our little controversy here though--it gives me something to feed my gardening obsession while I'm waiting for seeds to sprout, worms to eat my compost, and the water to dissipate a little in the hoophouse.

I'm gonna hunt down those authors...

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 3:13PM
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Lloyd

I suggest composting that book.

Lloyd

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 3:21PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

***BELLY LAUGH***

It's a really good book though!

In defense of the authors, they DO stipulate that it's just a CHAPTER on composting, not a book on composting. The book is really about singing the praises of fungi, not about compost!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 3:36PM
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Lloyd

I guess I should cut them some slack, my financial adviser has given me some pretty lousy stock recommendations and I haven't composted him.

hmmmmm.....

naw, best not.

;-)

Lloyd

P.S. If they are not singing the praises of compost, then for sure they are quacks!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 3:44PM
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KatyaKatya(6)

My winter composting happens same as joepyeweed described. Probably not extra efficient, but works.
The final stage of carbon oxidation is carbon dioxide which is a gas and flies away. Organic matter in soil/compost contains carbon compounds at different stages of decomposition and oxidation, starting with polysaccharides such as cellulose, lignin, starch and what have you.
Nitrogen compounds theoretically can be decomposed down to ammonia which is volatile. However, it is also soluble in water so probably would evaporate slower from wet matter. But the most important thing is that it does not have time to. All amines, starting with plain ammonia, are quickly oxidized into nitrites immediately converted to nitrates (by soil microorganisms). Nitrate anions do not evaporate and are directly available to plants. Plants consume nitrogen mostly in form of nitrate. (Some limited take-up of ammonia also happens.)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 5:05PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Katya, thank you so much for your contribution to this thread. You clearly know a lot about chemistry. We all love smart folks around here :-) Why do the authors write:

"Never let a compost pile get over 155* F (68* C) as this will start to burn off carbon."

You wrote, "The final stage of carbon oxidation is carbon dioxide which is a gas and flies away."

Does this mean the final stage is only reached above 155 F ? If not, then what do you think the book authors meant by their proscription against 156 plus? Thanks again :-)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 6:49PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Oh, let me partially answer my own question. I think carbon dioxide can definitely be produced at temps below 155, since we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. And I know it's not 155* F in my lungs [chuckle]. So I guess we're still left wondering what the authors meant by:

"Never let a compost pile get over 155* F (68* C) as this will start to burn off carbon."

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 7:15PM
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ZoysiaSod(6a/6b St.Lou TranZone)

Someone please give Ralleia the keys to the city--or at the very least the keys to GardenWeb. I think I've been convinced that the 2 authors did indeed make a mistake, and should have said nitrogen is vented to the atmosphere--not carbon! And this is the *Revised* edition!

My thanks to pt03, ralleia, and katya for being sooo smart.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 10:45PM
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ralleia(z5 Omaha, NE)

Thank you for the praise, but I am just an amateur composter. As to the likelihood of errors in the book, I have dozens of engineering textbooks, many in their third, fourth of FIFTH editions with glaring errors in the text and figures!

Now we'd better move on from the topic, or Lloyd is gonna COMPOST US for sure!!!

P.S. Lloyd--they *do* sing the praises of compost. The comment I made about the fungi is that they differentiate between bacterially-dominant and fungally dominated composts, mulches, and soils, with the idea that plants have a preference for one or the other. Annual flowers and veggies tend to prefer the bacterially dominant soils, composts, mulches, while plants that live a long time like trees and perennials favor the fungus! :)

    Bookmark   January 29, 2012 at 6:35AM
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