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Winter Composting

Insulated Winter Composting Bin

Aside from having a specific ‘Winter Composting’ category on the blog, I decided it might be helpful to create a winter composting resource page so people can A) learn more about winter composting in general, and B) access all the pertinent blog posts I’ve written (here and elsewhere), along with other useful tidbits (videos, photos etc). I’m going to keep things relatively simple for now, but will definitely continue to build this page over time.

What Is Winter Composting and Why Should You Do It?

Let’s start by defining the term ‘winter composting’. Obviously we are talking about ‘composting in the winter’ here, but I think it’s important to point out that when I say ‘winter’, I’m referring to the real deal – the often-harsh, snowy, freezing winters encountered in Canada and the northern states (along with many other regions of the world). To be totally honest, my location in Southern Ontario (Canada) is somewhat tame in comparison to many regions of the ‘Great White North’ (and even Northern USA), but I have little doubt that outdoor winter composting can take place in much colder regions as well, with a little bit of extra effort.

Now that you know what I’m referring to when I talking about ‘winter composting’, you may still be wondering WHY?!?
I imagine the very notion of winter composting must seem a little extreme, or ridiculous…or perhaps even extremely ridiculous to some people (my neighbours, for example)!

After all, why on earth would anyone want to trek outside in sub-zero weather to add kitchen scraps to their compost bin when their gardens are frozen solid and there are other indoor methods, such as bokashi or vermicomposting, that can be employed to deal with waste materials during the long winter months.

Good question!

Here are some possible reasons for keeping an outdoor compost bin active all winter long:

These are just a few of the possible reasons for giving winter composting a try!

Basic Requirements for Winter Composting

Heat Source
In order to compost successfuly all winter long you need to make sure that your system stays microbially active. A frozen heap, or even one with temperatures just above the freezing mark won’t do you much good. Keeping a system warm and microbially active will require the presence of an external heat source or enough material (‘critical mass’) – with a well balanced C:N ratio ( somewhere between 20:1 and 40:1 will work best) – to support microbial heating. The critical mass for thermophilic composting is generally in the range of 1 cubic yard – so you will definitely want to use a system that has a volume of at least that much (the colder your region, the bigger you’ll likely want to make your system).

Unless you are creating massive winter composting heaps (a lot bigger than 1 cubic yard), you will likely also need to insulate your system somehow. An excellent low-tech approach would be to simply stack up straw bales around the outside of your bin. In fact, you could make an excellent winter system by simply stacking straw bales (to create the walls), then filling it with your balanced mixture of waste materials.

To create my current insulation system I first lined the inside of my bin with multiple layers of corrugated cardboard, then built an outer wall around my bin, thereby creating a space I could stuff full of insulation (in my case, second-hand home insulation). I then added some additional layers of cardboard between the outer wall and the insulation layer.

In areas where heavy snowfall occurs, snow can obviously be used as a great supplemental layer of insulation – I have big heaps of snow adjacent to 3 of the 4 faces of my bin. Another great naturally occurring source of insulation is the earth itself. Digging a compost pit in the ground, or better yet into the side of a hill can be an easy (and effective) strategy.

Apart from having insulation around the outside of your bin, it will also help to maintain a thick layer of bedding over top of your composting mass. Loose straw and fall leaves are very well suited for this task, but there are plenty of other possibilities as well.

To keep your system chugging along all winter, it will certainly help to continually add fresh waste materials. I recommend keeping a bucket (or larger container) for all your kitchen scraps to ensure that you are adding a decent amount each time you make a trip to the bin. You may even want to seek out external waste sources just to make sure you have enough. Local coffee shops (for coffee grounds), grocery stores (for waste produce) or stables (for manure) are just a few possibilities.

Winter Composting Posts from 2007/2008 (Compost Guy Blog) (in chronological order)

Winter Composting Extravaganza II
Oh, The Weather Outside is Frightful!
New Years Composting
Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Windy, Warm…Now Wintry!
The Real Challenge Begins!
Wacky Weather Continues
More Snow, More Cold – What Else is New?
Winter Composting Wrap-Up


If you have Flash installed, you may want to watch the full (longer + high resolution) version on the Red Worm Composting website. Access the page >>HERE<< (again, remember you will be leaving this site)

Winter Composting Posts from 2006/2007 (EcoSherpa Blog)

**IMPORTANT** – The EcoSherpa website is no longer online (and has changed ownership). I have included Internet Archive links of the posts for now – and will be re-posting the content on newer pages as soon as I can.

Winter Composting Extravaganza
Composter’s Log – Stardate 60352.8
Composter’s Log: Stardate 60376.9 – RED ALERT!!
Composter’s Log: Stardate 60393.6 – Winter Has Arrived
Composter’s Log: Stardate 60429.3 – Unusual Life Forms
Composter’s Log: Stardate 60492.2 – ‘Oh Winter, Where Art Thou?’
Composter’s Log – The Iceman Cameth
Composter’s Log – Dontchu Know I’m Loco?!
Composter’s Log: Letting Sleeping Mice Lie
Composter’s Log – Back In Business!


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Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Lydia
#1. August 1st, 2008, at 4:26 PM.

This looks awesome. We are looking for a way to deal with dog waste. We already compost during the summer but it would be nice to do year round.

Question: Do you add to the compost pile during the winter? I’m sure you don’t want a heat loss. How do you handle this?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Robert
#2. November 24th, 2008, at 8:36 AM.

While creating a substainable condition, such as heat, is it ok to mix
around the pile or bin in the winter, fear of conditions heating up too much?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Nikki
#3. January 2nd, 2010, at 10:03 PM.

I just received a compost bin over the Christmas holiday…is it ok to start adding kitchen scraps to it now to later thaw in the spring? First sign of spring I will be adding straw and perhaps a bag of compost accelerator. Is this ok?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Marilyn Cunningham
#4. November 24th, 2010, at 1:39 PM.

We started a small compost box this past summer. It’s small because we have a small household. We were reasonably successful, but now winter has arrived it’s stopped “working”.
I’m considering adding kitchen scraps to the pile throughout the winter even though it won’t do anything until spring. What problems could we have with this method?

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Sampson
#5. January 13th, 2011, at 12:13 AM.

I appreciate the advice and even though I can understand why you said it seems ridiculous to work on compost in the winter I have a perfectly good reason to back you up.

I’m doing my senior project next semester for high school and I’m making ethanol for my project.

Ethanol needs compost, and I have to start now – in the winter! =D

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Matt
#6. January 2nd, 2012, at 1:34 AM.

Thanks for your help in getting this rolling. Track my progress here:


In the Twin Cities of Minnesota, attempting to compost through the winter with a critical mass. The temperatures haven’t really dropped yet … which is sad seeing that is is November!

Check in and see how it goes!

Get your own gravatar by visiting gravatar.com Simple Guy
#7. December 2nd, 2012, at 3:12 AM.

I can’t get a compost pile going in the Summer and I’ve got one of the barrells that supposively makes it easy. lol
Is there an accelerant I need to add?

Trackback Mention from Lovelandwormery.com
#8. December 30th, 2012, at 12:43 AM.

Where should I put my worms? | lovelandwormery.com: This page is on composting but it might give you some ideas. https://www.compostguy.com/winter-composting/ [...]