Winter Composting: Should I Just Scrap It?

Ginny Figlar Colón by Ginny Figlar Colón | December 7th, 2011 | 24 Comments
topic: Green Living

winter compostingNice … half-frozen veggie scraps molded together in a solid mass. Not exactly what I want to see in my compost bin. With at least five more months of cold weather before warmth and sunshine reappear, why do I even bother keeping the pile going?

Well, I guess I do know why. Diverting even a handful of potato skins from the trash gives me an unexplainable sense of satisfaction. (If you aren’t yet a composter, you just can’t relate to this strange obsession with vegetable scraps.)

So after filling my compost bin with a big batch of freshly raked leaves this weekend, I did a little online research to see what I could do to make it a wee bit more productive this winter.

Here’s my plan of attack:

1. Get a bigger under-the-sink kitchen compost bucket. Fewer trips through the snow will help me stay motivated to feed the outdoor bin all winter long.

2. Empty the compost bin now. Since decomposition slows considerably in the winter, the contents won’t shrink very fast and the bin can get overfilled in the process.

3. Save some leaves. I’m going to stockpile some of the leaves I’m raking now to periodically mix in with winter scraps. Some sites suggest using old tomato cages or covered garbage cans to hold the leaves.

4. Don’t turn the pile. Yep, it pays to be lazy all winter because turning a pile lets valuable heat out.

5. Break down the bits a bit more. Maybe I can get away with chucking a whole apple in the bin in the middle of the summer, but not when the thermometer is hitting negative numbers.

We’ll see if these extra steps make a difference come springtime. And, even if it doesn’t result in more compost, at least it saved some space at the landfill.

Want to learn more about composting? Check out our Gaiam Life Guide to Composting or watch sustainable living videos on!


  1. Great Post Ginny! I was actually pondering about composting this Winter, after a overfilled outdoor compost bin by January last Winter! I’m doing bokashi and strongly thinking about getting the inddor compost bin, if anybody has used it how good does it work?

    Josee | November 19th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  2. I’ve used a wooden worm bin for years for winter kitchen composting. It’s a wood box on wheels which I keep in my basement walkout, an unheated but protected stairwell. I insulated a small space under the first step with foam insulating panels and put a small electric space heater next to the box. I keep it at 45-50 degrees. The wheels enable me to pull the box out when I need to add a batch of kitchen garbage. In the spring, I take the box outside and harvest the worm castings. (I can tell you how I do it in another post) Outside I have a small metal garbage can with the bottom removed. I taped plastic window screen to the bottom so the worms can’t get out and it doesn’t get soggy. The worms go in there and they’re ready to start the cycle all over again. It is an amazingly satisfying process and I’ve done it for 20 years!

    Martha Claus | November 20th, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  3. these are some great tips i can give to my family and friends back on the east coast.

    Melissa | December 2nd, 2008 | Comment Permalink
  4. Yup, I always compost throughout the winter and really do nothing special. It all eventually composts down. I have 2 composters, though so that probably helps!

    Holly | June 23rd, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. I am a diehard gardener with years of experience. I have volunteered many places and go garden tour hunting.

    The ideal way to compost from my experience it to have a yard of horse manure dumped someplace on the property. Then, when you have kitchen scrap, go out there and dig a hole in the pile and cover it with more manure.

    My worms are UNBELIEVABLE and create the best vermicompost. I didn’t build anything, I add leaves that you can just go over with a lawn mower to chop and add carbon/texture and then I put it on my 100 roses.

    j. kaczy | June 24th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  6. Another way to have a “hightech” looking composter is to go to HD or Lowe’s and buy a sheet of that lathing sheetmetal that people use to put stones on their house with.

    Make a shape like a box and put in your leaves. It stands about 3 feet in a square shape and looks great. I have seen people make walls of leaves with it in a serpentine shape many feet long.

    It is an excellent idea as well.

    j. kaczy | June 24th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  7. ps My garden kicks ass.

    j. kaczy | June 24th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  8. Actinomyacetes love oxygen. Turn that pile more often and it composts quickly. The temp. can go up pretty darn high and smoke. The more green (nitrogen) that you add to the brown (carbon) makes for more compost. Chicken manure and hair has lots of nitrogen. Leaves, when they are brown, of course add carbon. Don’t add grease cause it seals the actinomyacetes. The worms hate onions and they don’t like oranges or lemons.

    I have spoken. :0

    j. kaczy | June 24th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  9. Living in Fargo (yep, we loved the movie!) I’ve found a way to compost throughout harsh winters. I line a 30-gal garbage can with a plastic trash bag and keep it right outside my kitchen door. I dump kitchen scraps all winter. Once temps begin warming up in the spring, I empty the contents into my two traditional composters. There’s a lot of “compost tea” (liquid) at the bottom of the bag) which is great for getting them going. This fall I’ve saved several bags of lawnmower-mulched clippings and leaves and will allow them to decompose on their own. With our severe negative temps, I’m not sure what will happen but it’s worth the time and little effort on my part to see if I have good soil next May!

    Robyn | October 15th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  10. During winter I use the same bin you have. On dry fall days I gather leaves in huge black plastic bags to be tied in place around the outside of the bin. Clear plastic covers the whole affair, with a hole cut for the top opening. Two bags are duct taped to create an insulating lid to cover the top of the bin. The sun warms the bags in their plastic greenhouse and the worms and microbes heat up the interior. In Chicago it has not gone above freezing in over two weeks with many single digit nights. My compost steams along all winter.

    Curtis Evans | February 15th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  11. Hi Ginny,

    Thanks for writing such an interesting post. It’s great that you are having so much pleasure in composting, just like me. I live in a small apartment, so don’t have much room to compost. Therefore I’m using the Bokashi bin, which is a great way to compost if you are in a situation like me. It’s really satisfying.

    Keep on composting!


    Bokashi | February 17th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  12. Nice plan, i hope i will make a good plan for this on my life.

    Selenna | May 20th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  13. I’ve been worm composting inside for over a year, now. Our clay here really is stiff. Using filtered pet litter with compressed pine pellets or Aspen shavings (for small critters and birds) helps our garden soil immensely–my green-thumb mom is impressed! This “mulch” we believe is much better than familiar commercial mulches and bark–the ex-pet litter tends to stay in place far better, –especially compared to bark. Such litters are pricier, however.

    I Vitamix any extra unused/rotting fruits (not including citrus/tomatoes/onions), veggies, and banana peels with some water. Then, I dig multiple, deep-enough holes in the garden or other areas where I desire worms and pour,–re-covering with dirt and mulch. The food is broken down so well that worms go it through it fast and multiply. It doesn’t have much time to smell or attract vermin, either: I’ve never seen vermin nearby. Worms like coffee grounds really well, also–of course, these are saved and in-mixed….

    The worm people I used last year say that citrus/acidic fruits/veggies may be used in big, outside bins as long as it’s separated far away from the other “food.” According to them, the citrus/acidic food needs time to degrade well–then, the worms will enter. I just emulsified such foods separately, and, I’ll attempt burial in the garden area. Apartment worm composters aren’t nearly large enough and won’t work with such foods. Certainly, used coffee filters should be removed from coffee grounds and trashed before inputting grounds to such a composter–these filters won’t degrade in a home worm composter.

    (Banana peels really are stringy and have caused the Vitamix to shut itself off in the past. A few minutes later it will turn on yet again after sufficient shutoff time for “resetting.” Worms like emulsified banana peels very well.)

    Geoffrey | July 8th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  14. Looks like it’s time to follow these tips again. I’ll be following them again this year because they work. I hope others will follow them, too! Thanks again.

    WC Malone | September 9th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  15. Landfills would be piles of solid, non-biodegradable industrial waste without our table scraps. It’s the plastics and junk that we should be mostly concerned with. No need for composting unless you are a gardener. Most composters just have heaping piles of rotting food in their yard they will never use.

    bill | October 18th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  16. There are composting “machines” for indoor composting or outside in a sheltered area. NatureMIll make these computer controlled gizmos with a heating element. They do produce real thermophylic compost but I’m not sold on the environmental worthiness of running electric elements just to make compost. They are however a brilliant solution for apartment dwellers.
    I love composting! So I really relate to your unexplainable sense of satisfaction and yes it probably does seem weird to those who haven’t got the bug!

    I live in a warm climate so composting goes ahead all year round. My outdoor worm farms do slow down in winter as the worms get less active. I’ve found worm composting to provide the best compost. Plants jump ahead after applying the castings/vermicompost. But it’s still a case of quality in quality out. Good compost comes from good ingredients. You have a beautiful site and blog. Love it.

    Composter Crazy Darcy | December 13th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  17. awesome post, has helped me get a few ideas for christmas presents too :)

    PrimoLED | December 1st, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  18. I live in Florida and we have been collecting compost for about a year or two. I have no leaves, manure, etc., to add…just fruit and veggie waste. Oh, I have added a large bag or two of soil on occasion. So, my problem is there are lots of bugs in my compost pile and tons of little flies : ( It is just your basic large black plastic box I purchased at Sam’s Club. It doesn’t turn the compost or anything. On occasion I would go out with a curved pitch fork to aerate the stuff! But I am so disappointed in what I am seeing. There are large pieces of matter that have not broken down and I feel like I can’t use the compost out in my garden yet. Please advise. Thank you!

    Elena | December 7th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  19. It doesn’t take much snow before my compost bin is buried! It’s in a corner that gets 5 foot drifts! During the winter, I put my scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer. When the bag is full, I tie it and take it to the chest freezer. In the spring I take them to the compost bin. I have several bags by the time spring comes, and they take up much of my freezer, but I do get the satisfaction of making great compost.

    Stdd | December 11th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  20. Very timely post for me! I am a relatively new composter, but I totally get the feeling of success from keeping scraps out of the landfill. I also was wondering if there was anything different I should be doing for the winter, but it sounds like what I am currently doing will work just fine. Thank you!

    Corrie @ Blurb Column | December 12th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  21. Elena in FL. If you have a paper shredder take your old newspapers (no color flyers) and shred them and add layers as you add you kitchen scraps. I think you need to turn you pile more often. I do mine 2 or 3 times a week during spring, summer and fall. Here in the NE during the winter i just allow my compost to sit although i do insulate with hay bales. Winter long kitchen scraps i collect in a large bucket near the house and add to my piles in the spring. Hope this helps–don’t give up you’ll get your black gold eventually

    Tom | December 13th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  22. My solution to winter composting is to create huge piles that insulate themselves. I use a pitchfork to dig a center hole when I need to add nutrients such as kelp, used chicken bedding, old leaves, kitchen scraps, fish meal etc. I am in AK north of 58 degrees Lat but we don’t have anything akin to arable soil so we make it. My worm bin sits in the hall and has no odor and minimal liquid maybe because I rip up all TP and papertowel rolls with some added cardboard bits?

    Pat | January 8th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  23. [...] Gardens Alive Organic Gardening Compost Guy Gaiam- Composting compost [...]

    Composting in Winter | January 2nd, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  24. Nice article.Thanks for sharing with us.

    james hope | December 25th, 2014 | Comment Permalink

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