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Winter Composting How-to for Spring Success

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OK, so it is freezing cold outside and you need to do something good with all your kitchen scraps. So what if you could keep making compost over the cold season and have it ready for spring’s thaw? That would be awesome, because compost is one of the very best tools available for the organic gardener. And guess what? You can compost without fuss in all but the coldest regions, so let's have a look at what it takes.

The Setup

No matter if you have a commercially built plastic compost bin or something homemade out of spare wooden boards, some poles surrounded by chicken wire, or a heap being sheltered by the rain and wind, composting is both rewarding and easy to do.

There are only a couple of things to watch out for when getting started:

  • Try to keep the compost working in one location for several years, because this helps to build up a healthy ecosystem of bugs and microbes.
  • Because you'll be composting all year round, find a flattish spot that is protected from summer heat and winter winds. Even better is somewhere undercover.

Turning up the heat

The trick to winter composting is to use ingredients that encourage microbes to get to work and generate all that heat for you, and in doing so, give you quality compost. Some of those ingredients include:

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From the Organic Authority Files

  • Used Coffee Grounds (UCG) - a fantastic cost free additive that will help raise internal compost temperatures and give you beautifully rich and pleasant smelling compost. Your local cafe or coffee house will have plenty of used coffee grounds for your needs, so go ask for some and they should be happy to oblige.
  • Horse and Poultry manure - both types will help generate and maintain heat within the compost, but if you want to add volume to the heap at the same time, then go for the horse manure.
  • Molasses - this is syrup derived from sugar cane or sugar beet, and it's all that sugar that is so good at raising compost temperatures. Mix at a ratio of 1 parts molasses to 20 parts water, then pour onto the most absorbent material you have in the heap, such as straw or shredded paper.
  • Last year's compost - you bet! One of the easiest ways to get your compost up and running is by taking a shovel full of the last batch and add it to the new. The microbes and other bugs will go straight to work in their new home.

Some Simple Maintenance

There are three things to watch out for when looking to raise compost heat, and here they are:

  • Make the compost heap big - You need a certain compost mass to help keep the whole pile running as hot as possible, with approximately 1 cubic metre (1.3 cubic yards), as the optimum size.
  • Balanced Moisture - Even as the snow is falling around you, that compost needs to stay moist, but not too wet. If the heap is exposed to rain, see if you can cover it all with cardboard sheets, hessian sacks, or whatever you have on hand. To test that you have the moisture balance right, pick up a handful of compost - If it gleams with moisture but is not dripping, then it’s all good.
  • Airflow - All those microbes need air to do their job, so if there is not enough for them, the compost will sit there all winter sad and frozen. Try to give the heap a good turn each week with a long handled pitch fork. When you find that turning over the heap no longer builds up the heat, it is time to let the whole lot just sit there and mature for one to two months.

So there you have it, some tips to help you turn a heap of kitchen scraps into valuable organic gardening material. It is not a great deal of work really, and if you find that the compost is not ready by spring, it will be waiting for you come summer!

Image: Meg Stewart

Author Info:Shane Genziuk is a corporate technologist and committed environmentalist. He is the founder of Ground to Ground, a volunteer group that encourages cafés and businesses to make better use of spent coffee grounds for compost and fertilizer.

Syndication Info:This post has been syndicated by Nathan Brown, the recruiter for Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage’s gardening jobs and provider of going green advertising.

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