Composting in the winter can be a challenge. But here in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, the cold of winter doesn’t have to stop your efforts at making compost. You can insulate your regular heap, you can use ‘trench composting’ or –best of all!–you can use red worms to do your composting.
Make Compost All Winter: Insulate Your Compost Pile
According to one source, you can use bubble wrap to insulate your compost heap to keep it warm enough to continue to rot. I would suggest adding old blankets on top of the bubble wrap. Or, as an alternative to the wrap, use a regular tarp. The blankets are available at your local thrift store. The bubble wrap at any office supply store. The bubble wrap -or a tarp–doesn’t get wet and lose it’s insulating value, the way the blankets can. Even better would be to make a ‘tarp sandwich’-lay a tarp over yoru compost pile, add a blanket or two and then another tarp to keep the whole thing warm.
An alternative to the not-so-pretty tarps and blankets is straw bales, placed around the outside of the heap, and on top. Lift the top one off to put your kitchen garbage in. Here in the Dallas/Ft Worth area, it seldom gets cold enough to actually stop your compost heap from working. Due to the urban environment, however, compost most often needs to be ‘in’ something, not just a heap on the ground. Any container that animals with sharp teeth can’t easily chew through will do for the winter. Now, I’m not naming any animals in particular, but in urban areas there is indeed such wildlife. The sleepy early morning I came face-to-face with a ‘possum in my trash was… well, lets say I didn’t need my second cup of coffee to wake up! So, bales of straw around and on top of your composting container, making a little ‘hut’ for it to live in, works well.
Make Compost All Winter: Try Trench Composting
If tarps and bales of straw don’t appeal, try burying your winter compost. How does this work? First, dig a trench three feet long and a good shovel’s depth deep. How long a ‘trench’ depends on how much kitchen garbage you generate over the winter months. The trench can always be extended. A great place to dig this trench is in the area of the garden you will be planing deep-rooted vegetables come spring.
Keep the dirt you dig out of your trench handy, perhaps covered with a tarp for easy access. When the time comes, place your kitchen garbage in the bottom of the trench, cover with at least 3 inches of dirt, and lightly pack the dirt down. If you have some unfinished compost from the fall, use some of that along with the dirt. This keeps any ‘varmints’ or loose dogs from finding your ‘treasure’ and spreading it around on the surface. It also keeps any smell from escaping during warm spells.
Make Compost All Winter: Get Red Worms!
If you do not love tarps, bales of straw or trenches, there is another very good way to take care of your kitchen garbage this winter. Technically, this is called “vermiculture”, or growing worms. Believe it or not, this is the best option for most people, especially in urban areas like Dallas. These “animals” are normally the last creatures in to the compost pile, the “closers” who finish the contents after the bacteria and fungus have done their work. But sprig th winter, they can be the primary compost-makers. They can even live under your sink so there is no trip out of doors. If that is too close for you, a warm corner of your garage will work for red worms. Red wigglers, as they are sometimes called, eat a lot. As few as 100 of the little fellows can eat 3 ½ pounds of kitchen garbage a week, plus all the paper you can give them. Feed them your kitchen garbage, bed them with shredded newspaper (torn by hand in strips if no shredder) and they will be happy for years. You may not want to go back to composting kitchen refuse the old way.
Did I mention they eat paper? All kinds, any king. As a side note, a paper shredder, even an inexpensive one is a SUPER thing to put right by the door where the mail comes in. You can feed all the ‘junk mail’ to it immediately, and then feed the shreddings to the worms! You can dream away with your seed catalogues as the red worms munch away on the junk mail, making trash into treasure!
But where to get these red wigglers? Craigslist.com is a great resource, as is the local newspaper (check their online ads) or, of course, the internet. There are worm farms all over the world, and one is near you! The Craigslist for our area (Dallas, TX) listed two different ‘farms’ and the internet yielded three more.
So, are you motivated to make compost all winter? I have given you the three main ways to do it, and I’ll bet there are even more. Rather than settle for just kitchen scraps and junk mail, maybe regular composting technique in a garbage can or other container in the garage? Collect coffee grounds from local coffee shops in a season when ‘no one wants them’? Collect waste produce from local grocery stores? Manure from local riding stables? These are just a few sources for more composting materials, and in the winter almost NOBODY is collecting. So no competition!