How To Compost In The Winter In Canada
I often hear from Northern gardeners who are puzzled wondering how they can continue composting during the Winter months when their compost pile is frozen solid. And I get it, it seems impossible…especially if you want to compost in the Winter in Canada or other cold regions where temperatures are far below freezing. But believe it or not, you can easily compost in the Winter months! And it’s a lot easier than you might think.
This post covers:
- Can You Compost In The Winter In Canada?
- Can You Compost In The Winter If Your Pile Is Frozen?
- How To Start Composting In The Winter
- The Easiest Way To Compost In The Winter In Freezing Temperatures
- 5 FAQs On Winter Composting
Can You Compost In The Winter In Canada?
The answer is YES. You can absolutely compost in the Winter in Canada and in other Northern regions regardless of how cold it gets where you live.
Trust me….I’m located in Zone 3 in the Canadian Prairies where some Winter days are often as cold as -40°C! This doesn’t stop us from adding to our compost pile all Winter long. I appreciate that our compost set-up is located fairly close to our home so I don’t have to trudge too far through the snow. If you can, I definitely suggest situating your compost in a spot that is easily accessible in all seasons too.
So again yes, you can easily compost in the Winter in a cold climate and it’s not hard to do either.
By the end of this post you’ll learn how to compost in the Winter plus tips on how to help your compost breakdown over Winter, turning your compost pile during Winter and more.
Can You Compost In The Winter If Your Pile Is Frozen?
Yes, you can continue composting all Winter long even if your compost pile is frozen!
Here in Manitoba, Canada our compost pile often freezes as early as November. However that doesn’t stop us from continuing to add kitchen scraps, garden debris and other organic matter to it all Winter long.
There’s no magic approach or special set-up needed to compost in the Winter.
Simply continuing dumping your bin of compost scraps on top of your frozen pile. Easy as that!
Another option is to keep your kitchen scraps inside your home throughout the Winter and then add them all to your pile once it’s thawed and able to be turned in the Spring. If you want to use this approach, you could freeze your kitchen scraps in bags in your home freezer.
Of course, the downside of this is that your freezer will quickly fill up with bagged compost. Therefore I do suggest just adding your scraps to the top of your compost pile even when it’s frozen and/or covered in snow.
How To Start Composting In The Winter
If you’re brand new to composting and don’t yet have a compost station set-up, not to worry. You can easily start composting in the Winter!
Here’s how to start composting in the Winter:
First, select an area of your yard that is at least 4ft wide and easily accessible year round.
I’d suggest choosing a corner area by your fence or tree line. Compost can sometimes attract rodents, so be careful not to choose a space that is directly touching the walls of your home.
Next, use materials you already have on hand to build a U-shaped wall, leaving the front side open.
You can use a snowfence or chicken wire to build your frame. Or if you have lumber on hand, you can build short 4-5ft tall walls like we’ve done for our compost set-up.
If you have the space and resources, I’d suggest taking it one step further and building a two bay compost system. So two U-shaped sections side-by-side with a shared middle wall.
This approach allows you to have two compost piles at different stages of their life.
One side can be your “working” pile that you add to and turn regularly throughout the season to continue the decomposition process. Your other pile can be your “useable” compost that has been sitting for longer and is already broken down and ready to be added to the garden.
Now, keep reading for how to keep your compost pile going all throughout the Winter!
The Easiest Way To Compost In The Winter In Freezing Temperatures
Here’s the easiest way to compost in the Winter in freezing temperatures when your compost pile is frozen solid:
Step 1: Collect your kitchen scraps and compost materials in a small bin
Alongside vegetable and fruit scraps, there’s many other household waste items you can compost in your own backyard, including eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, coffee filters, hair, cardboard, newspaper and more.
Remember, the only things you don’t want to add to your backyard compost pile are dairy and meat products.
And of course, be sure to add all your garden debris, spent plants, foliage and leaves to your compost pile during your Fall garden cleanup.
Step 2: Head outside to your compost pile with your bin
As I mentioned above, you’ll enjoy Winter composting that much more if your compost area is in an easily accessible space in your yard. Certainly, you might need to trudge through some snow to get there but it should still be easy enough to get to.
We like to keep a wooden pallet in front of our compost pile as a little “door” to keep our dog away from it (compost can be extremely toxic to dogs!) as well as to keep it a little more enclosed from our vision while we’re in the yard.
Step 3: Dump your bin on the top of your frozen compost pile
It’s really simple as that.
Dump out your bin of kitchen scraps on the top of your pile. Yes, even if it’s covered in snow!
By the end of Winter, you will likely have a large build up of waste and this is totally okay.
As soon as your compost pile is workable in the Spring, you can start turning it. And trust me it will start to breakdown quickly with a little warm weather, oxygen and moisture!
Because of all the moisture from the snow, you’ll likely find that your compost pile is a little mushy come Spring. We’ve found that adding the first few bags of grass clippings after mowing the lawn in early Spring quickly balances things out.
But for now, all you need to do to compost in the Winter is to dump your compost bin on top of your frozen pile and repeat. That’s it!
Step 4: Do not turn or cover your added scraps, simply let them sit on top of the snow/frost
For one, it will be impossible to turn your compost pile if it’s frozen. So don’t try and break it apart with a shovel. Just let it be!
Plus, underneath all that snow and frost, the microorganisms in your compost are actually still at work, slowly but surely breaking down organic matter and turning it into rich, compost. So you don’t need to turn it or try to do anything else to help Mother Nature along.
You also don’t want to cover your compost with a tarp or any other material that would prevent it from getting oxygen and moisture.
Your compost pile needs both these things in order to break down, so let it be exposed to sunlight and water. On the warmer Winter days when snow begins to melt, your compost is getting a head start for Spring.
Step 5: Repeat these steps and continue adding to your compost all Winter long
Keep filling your compost bin with kitchen scraps and dumping it on top of your compost pile.
It will feel good knowing you’re sending less waste to the landfill while also slowly working toward having nutritious fertilizer for your garden come Spring!
The biggest takeaway from all this should be that less is more when it comes to Winter composting.
How Do You Take Care Of A Compost Pile In The Winter Months
Again, less is more when it comes to Winter composting. So the best way to “take care” of your compost in the Winter is to leave it be.
Don’t try to turn your pile, cover it, separate it or melt it.
Instead, just add your scraps to the top and let them freeze.
As soon as your soil is workable in Spring, then you can begin tending to your compost, turning it and balancing it out with adequate browns and greens.
5 FAQs On Winter Composting
What Is The Best Compost Bin For Cold Climates?
If you want to continue composting throughout the entire Winter, my suggestion is to avoid purchasing any type of plastic bin or tumbler.
For one, plastic bins and tumbler-style compost set-ups can’t hold all that much. So in the Winter months when you’re unable to work your compost, it will quickly fill up and you won’t be able to add more.
Secondly, many plastic compost bins crack in the Winter, become unusable the following Spring and having to go to the landfill.
So instead, follow my steps from above for how to set-up a compost pile, designating a small, 4ft wide area of your yard to being the “compost zone” with a U-shaped wall around it to contain your pile.
How Long Does Compost Take To Breakdown In The Winter?
In the Winter, compost is breaking down very, very slowly.
If you’re located in Zone 3 or a similar climate to myself, then it’s likely that from December to March your backyard compost pile isn’t breaking down much at all.
With that being said, if you have a massive compost pile then the inside may still heat up even if the outside is frozen, allowing decomposition to continue. This is really only the case if you have a large enough pile that the organic matter on the inside can stay warm.
But overall, it will likely take until Spring for your compost to really start breaking down and turning into usable soil.
Should I Cover My Compost Pile In The Winter?
As mentioned above, you want to keep your compost uncovered during the Winter so that oxygen, moisture and sunlight can continue getting to it. If you cover your compost pile in the Winter, you also won’t be able to add more scraps to it.
So keeping your Winter compost pile uncovered is best!
An uncovered compost pile will also make things easier come Spring when things start to thaw and melt. Mother Nature can take her course without requiring you to interfere by covering/uncovering your compost pile.
If you live in a region that gets lots of rain during the Winter, you can “cover” your compost with several layers of leaves to balance out the moisture. But again, avoid using a tarp or other material that would keep out moisture, oxygen and sunlight entirely.
How Do You Heat Up A Compost Pile In The Winter?
First off, there shouldn’t be any reason why you would need to heat up your compost pile in the Winter months.
You won’t need to use your finished, usable compost during Winter anyway, so there shouldn’t be any need to heat it up.
On the other hand, some gardeners do believe in insulating their compost pile to act as a buffer to the snow and freeze. The idea here is that your compost pile will stay warmer over Winter and therefore breakdown more quickly come Spring.
I personally don’t follow this approach, but if you’re wanting to you could try surrounding it by bagged leaves.
Another idea is to think about heating up your pile before Winter comes by adding more greens/nitrogen to it. Nitrogen can help compost decompose more rapidly and therefore “heat up” more throughout the Winter.
How Often Should You Turn Your Compost Pile In The Winter?
If your compost pile is frozen, there is no need to turn it at all during the Winter.
It will be very difficult to do and could actually stop decomposition from happening rather than speed it up since you’ll be exposing the warm centre to cold temperatures. Instead just let it be and allow Mother Nature to do her thing.
Now if you live in a region where your compost pile doesn’t freeze entirely during Winter, you can choose to turn it on a warmer day. If you do so, I’d suggest mixing in equal parts browns and greens when doing so. This will sort of wake up your compost and keep decomposition progressing.
And that’s it!
You now know how to compost in the Winter in Canada and other cold regions where your backyard compost pile freezes.
I hope you’re leaving with a few great tips to apply to your compost set-up this Winter. And if you have other composting advice for fellow gardeners, please comment below. I love hearing from you and answer all comments.
Happy composting, gardeners!