Larraine Roulston November’20

Prepare For Winter Composting

By Larraine Roulston

This year, home garden centres were sold out of their topsoils and seeds as more people than ever began growing their own food. Anyone new to gardening most likely obtained a composter during this time and will now find that as the weather becomes colder, their composter will soon be full to the top. Although the decomposing process slows down, it is just as easy to compost during the cold months as it is in the warmer weather. One of my neighbours remarked that his family was glad I encouraged them to use their composter during the winter. “We always think of just composting when spring arrives. As soon as we continued into the winter, we enjoyed strolling down our little snowy path to our backyard composter while discovering the different birds that appeared in our own backyard.”

In order to have an empty unit to accept organics during the winter, wiggle it away from the heap before the frost arrives. Kick over the standing compost and add lots of leaves. Top the mound with more leaves, then cover it with a tarp to trap the sun’s heat.

Once you have emptied your composter, start anew. Place it either beside your covered heap or move it to a different location. Add a base layer of brush or dry leaves and some twigs to provide air flow. Also, save some bags of fallen leaves (carbon) to alternate with your food scraps (nitrogen) when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. You also can line the inside of your composter with cardboard pieces to act as insulation. As before, begin to layer the wet greens from your kitchen with dry browns. If you have insufficient leaves on hand, use sawdust from untreated wood, straw, crumpled brown paper, or shredded cardboard to provide the necessary carbon.

In winter your composter will fill rather quickly. After the first week of warm weather, however, slivers of ice will begin to break down organic pieces. The cycle will heat up and the volume will decrease, allowing you to compost until the following autumn. As well as composting your vegetable and fruit peelings, include any unwanted beverages and water from rinsing pots used for cooking rice or oatmeal, etc. In addition, you can toss in pet fur, hair, feathers, floor sweepings, wilted flowers/plants, cooled wood ashes (and I emphasize cooled ashes), and bits of string, wool or cotton. The rule of thumb is “if it was once alive, it can be composted.” Continue to utilize your green bin for meat, fats, bones and dairy products, as these do not break down quickly and may attract animals as well as produce an odour when they thaw.

When you are ready to tend to your garden, most of your covered heap will be ready to use. The compost should be dark and crumbly and most of the original materials will be unrecognizable. If you find pieces of corn husks or nut shells that have not fully decomposed, just pitch them into your existing working composter.

Happy winter composting!

Larraine writes children’s books that highlight the joy of composting and pollinating with the adventures of Pee Wee at Castle Compost. With illustrations, songs and poems, the stories unearth the miracles of nature’s cycle of life. Fun & factual for all ages. To order, visit